The problem of plastic waste pollution continues to be a rapidly developing problem across Planet Earth.
In 1950, the world’s population of 2.5 billion produced 1.5 million tons of plastic.
In 2016, a global population of more than 7 billion people produced over 320 million tons of plastic, according to marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage.
This is set to double by 2034.
Fortunately, as awareness of the world’s plastic crisis becomes more visible in mainstream society, countermeasures and tactics have been introduced to fight our planet’s waste problem here in Britain.
In March this year environmental secretary Michael Gove announced a new Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), which is subject to consultation later in 2018. The scheme aims to reduce the amount of litter polluting our environment by returning a small cash sum to the consumers that recycle their cans and plastic bottles.
In The Guardian last month, a report revealed that only 43% of plastic bottles sold in the UK were recycled, with 700,000 littered every day. A Deposit Return scheme was introduced in Germany in 2003, which recycles up to 99% of plastic bottles, clearly demonstrating the scheme is effective and produces results.
This January the fight against plastic waste reached parliament, where Prime Minister Theresa May was criticised by many members of the public for her easily attainable and ineffective strategy. She pledged to eradicate all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042, and her announcements focused on throwaway plastics, stating that all retailers in England will adopt the 5p charge for plastic bags. However these statements question what defines avoidable plastic, and who determines what plastic can and cannot be avoided.
Over the last few years, with Britain attempting to tackle the plastic waste crisis, Cornwall has found itself at the heart of the issue. With a large amount of the county’s income coming from tourism, the urgency and need to preserve the environment in the South West has never been greater.
In December 2017 Penzance became the first community in the UK to be awarded ‘plastic free’ status, following a grassroots scheme backed by dozens of local people and businesses aimed at cleaning our oceans and beaches.
The approval was granted as part of a campaign by marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), who originated out of Porthtowan village hall in 1990. Since then they have become a prime example of Cornwall’s fight against plastics, with 125 volunteer reps and 420 beach cleans organised in 2017.
The charity and their work has inspired communities across the UK to take part in their plastic-free coastline scheme, with hundreds of locations nationwide aiming to secure the coveted status. Following Penzance’s success late last year several other towns have won the award, including Perranporth, Penryn and Falmouth.
Cornwall suffered in early 2018, after 100mph winds deposited thousands of plastic items onto local beaches during Storm Eleanor. Hundreds of people volunteered, taking part in beach cleans all over the county, representing Kernow’s passion and community spirit that sets a perfect example for the rest of the UK.
Speaking exclusively to Truthfal, Beach Cleans Cornwall member Lauren Walker said “I take part in beach cleans because they’re meant to be clean. I live by the sea and it’s horrible having to go to a place that’s normally so beautiful but now covered with rubbish. It doesn’t feel pleasant, it affects the wildlife and makes our beaches unsafe.”
“Keeping our beaches clean means it’s safe for everyone to use. You don’t have to worry about your dogs or family standing on something like smashed glass. It makes it a more pleasant place to be and brings back the tourists, which we need in some of our smaller shops.”
Along with creating the Plastic Free Coastlines scheme, Surfers Against Sewage seek to protect Cornwall’s marine environment in many other ways too. In 2017 they organised 1393 beach cleans, inspiring 34,779 volunteers to collect 97202 kg of rubbish from local areas. Additionally, SAS visit schools and colleges to inform and educate young people, on how they can reduce their negative impact on the environment.
The Final Straw Cornwall (FSC) is another cooperative working towards eliminating single use plastics here in the South West. FSC is a campaign to eradicate single use plastic straws from Cornwall, while raising awareness of the damage these items do to our environment. They partner with local businesses across the county, who are endorsed on the FSC website once they take the pledge to eradicate their plastic straws. Over 150 businesses have since joined.
As well as the provincial community and Cornish charities leading the fight against plastic waste, local government also has a large part in protecting our environment. During a full council meeting held on the 20th of February 2018, Cornwall Council committed to becoming single-use plastic free by 2020. The decision came after the motion ‘Konsel Kernow Says No to Single Use Plastics’ was proposed by eight Cornwall Councillors, who wanted to tackle the issue of waste in the county.
Councillor Jesse Foot, who proposed the motion, said “In order to lead by example and take positive corporate action, I wanted Konsel Kernow to encourage a culture that supports the environment by reducing waste and utilising reusable and recyclable products.”
“Waste and recycling is a major concern for the people of Cornwall. Single use plastics create unnecessary waste with negative impacts on our communities.”
Speaking to Truthfal reporter Dan Shering, Conservative spokesperson James Mustoe described three particular groups in Cornwall as being responsible for driving the fight against plastic waste.
“Firstly we have our MPs,” he said. “Our Cornish MPs are up to the task with Steve Double, the MP for St Austell and Newquay, chairing the Protect Our Waves All Party Parliamentary Group. This is a cross party group of MPs, supported by Cornish charity Surfers Against Sewage, which looks for ways to protect our marine environments from hazards such as plastics.”
“Secondly, we have Cornwall Council, which locally is doing its bit in the fight against single use plastics. Individually councillors such as Pauline Giles have introduced plastic recycling in County Hall, and I have recently got agreement to sign up Cornwall Council’s canteens to the Refill App and scheme.”
“Finally, and most importantly, we have the tremendous groundswell of support from the Cornish people, businesses and voluntary groups, who have come together magnificently to do their bit. Every day there are more and more community groups coming forward to take part in beach cleans and litter picks – every little helps and all of this positive activity encourages other people to take part and the movement grows and grows.”
It is the vast number of volunteers and organisations dedicated to eradicating waste that makes Cornwall’s fight against plastics so special. There is a genuine passion across the county, with all communities dedicated and working together in order to battle this growing crisis. This spirit and determination produces the admirable and well respected reputation that inspires the rest of the UK, setting a perfect example for combatting a prominent issue that affects countries all over the globe.