Thursday, 29 March 2018

A plastic bottle deposit scheme for England >>> >>> "Welcome as it is, such a scheme farms out responsibility to individual consumers rather than bringing into line corporations with far greater power to pioneer change"

The UK government has just announced a deposit scheme on plastic bottles:
Deposit return scheme: Who would pay? - BBC News
Michael Gove unveils a deposit return scheme for drinks bottles | Daily Mail Online 

BRITS face a green levy of up to 22p on plastic bottles as Michael Gove gives the green light to Britain’s first ever nationwide deposit recycling scheme.
As revealed by The Sun five days ago, the Environment Secretary will announce he plans to consult later this year on a anti-rubbish drive where Brits will get cash back for plastic and glass bottles as well as aluminium cans.

Brits face paying a deposit of up to 22p on plastic bottles in bid to stop waste 'wreaking havoc' - The Sun

Thanks to a lot of campaigning: 

Message in a bottle • Surfers Against Sewage

Futures Forum: Delays in launching deposit scheme > "Just get on with it!"
Futures Forum: Environment Secretary “determined to tackle the throwaway culture which plastics encapsulate”

A piece in Wired points out, though, that "such a scheme, welcome as it is, farms out responsibility to individual consumers rather than bringing into line corporations with far greater power to pioneer change": 

Fixing our plastic problem needs more than a bottle return scheme

Over 30 countries have seen plastic recycling increased to 90 per cent by deposit return schemes, but there's still a long way to go

Wednesday 28 March 2018

Closed Loop Recycling plant in Dagenham, London
Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

The UK has lagged behind the rest of Europe for far too long when it comes recycling, but today marks the beginning of a long road in cutting our plastic usage. The government has announced plans for a consultation which could see UK shoppers having to pay more for single-use bottles and cans in an attempt to cut down on waste and boost recycling. Thirteen billion plastic bottles are used yearly in the UK, and three billion of these are not recycled.

The proposed deposit return scheme is yet to have its details worked out, but should be rolled out across England after a consultation taking place this year – Scotland has already announced its own scheme of the same kind and Wales is beginning to investigate plans for one too. The proposed plans would see consumers would pay between 8p and 22p more for drinks in plastic bottles, and if the bottle is returned for recycling then the money would be refunded.

Similar schemes have been rolled out in 38 countries including Denmark, Germany and Sweden, which recycle on average 90 per cent of their bottles. In Norway, 95 per cent of plastic bottles are recycled and its scheme has been around since 1999.

Last month the government ignored calls from the Environmental Audit Committee to impose a latte levy, despite having vowed to address plastic proliferation amid growing concerns about what it is doing to our oceans and our planet via climate change. Well, now they’re doing it – and it’s a move that has been welcomed by consumers and campaigners alike. Julie Andersen, executive director at the Plastic Oceans Foundation, says "deposit returns have produced meaningful results" in many countries but warns us to "remember that plastic can only be recycled so many times, so this is not a long-term solution to single-use plastic, but rather a next step toward changing behaviour."

The UK scheme would likely see reverse vending machines in supermarkets, where glass and plastic bottles and metal cans could be deposited in return for the initial deposit. It would then be incumbent upon supermarkets to recycle these items properly. Supporters of the proposed scheme say the 5p plastic bag charge shows how well such a system can work – it succeeded in cutting usage by 83 per cent when it started in October 2015. The announcement of the deposit scheme coincides with protests in UK supermarkets where people have demonstrated against unneeded plastics by leaving them in trollies by the till.

“We can be in no doubt that plastic is wreaking havoc on our marine environment – killing dolphins, choking turtles and degrading our most precious habitats,” said environment secretary Michael Gove in a statement. In the past few months, the BBC’s widely-watched Blue Planet II has helped to raise awareness of the harm plastic dumping causes to marine life, and the government has banned the use of microbeads in cosmetics, which bond with toxic, waterborne chemicals and clog up the stomachs of water creatures, eventually making their way into the human food chain. The River Tame in Manchester was recently found to have the highest levels of micro-plastic pollution anywhere in the world.

Unlike the plastic bag scheme, which has partly been successful because shoppers can bring their own bags, under a deposit return scheme, in order to buy the desired drink, shoppers would have no other way to get their blueberry smoothie. The emphasis should be on funding alternative, more-easily recycled containers, say environmentalists. This move should be met with further initiatives to reduce plastic waste wherever possible, including offering paper bags to transport loose fruit and vegetables.

There are also concerns that such a scheme, welcome as it is, farms out responsibility to individual consumers rather than bringing into line corporations with far greater power to pioneer change. Groups like the Plastic Oceans Foundation also emphasise the centrality of education in long-term change: "awareness is really key. You can't care if you don't know... young people certainly do care and do act once they have the awareness of what plastic pollution is doing to our planet," says Andersen.

In some European countries like Germany, packaging-free shopshave been created. These allow customers to bring their own containers and fill them up with the desired item, keeping waste to an absolute minimum.

The UK's plastic bottle deposit scheme won't be enough to fix our plastic problem | WIRED UK

John Vidal writing in the Guardian is also not very impressed: "
It’s not enough to return a few plastic bottles, or even to pick up an old mattress on a beach": 

The plastics crisis is more urgent than you know. Recycling bottles won’t fix it

A deposit scheme for bottles won’t make a scrap of difference. This stuff is in our food, our clothes – and in us

John Vidal
Wed 28 Mar 2018 17.25 BST


Illustration by Eva Bee

West Wales, last weekend. The old foam mattress lying waterlogged on an otherwise clean beach might have been at sea for months before it was washed up on the tide. A large bit of it had broken off, and the rest was crumbling. It was a clear threat to wildlife, so we heaved what was left of it above the wave line and promised to come back to dispose of it properly when it was dry.

But how do you safely dispose of an old mattress made of billions of tiny plastic particles leaking formaldehyde and other potentially dangerous chemicals? Do you burn it? Bury it? Do you expect the company who made it to come to collect it? Answers to environment secretary Michael Gove, who today pledged to stem the tide of plastic debris by announcing a consultation on a plastic-bottle return scheme for England, which aims to get people to recycle more.

Gove’s initiative is welcome, but minimal, and will have zero impact on the vast and growing scale of the plastic problem. The scheme is aimed at people fed up with litter, and to Blue Planet viewers who are shocked by images of birds swallowing plastic straws and turtles being choked by plastic bags. It is no more use than a heavy smoker forgoing a single cigarette.

Since we started engineering polymers to make plastic on a mass scale in the 1950s, this byproduct of the petrochemical industry, which uses about 6% of all the oil we extract a year, has spread to myriad manufacturing processes. Plastic is now ubiquitous, insidious and impossible to avoid. It makes up our clothes, containers, bottles, electronics, food trays, cups and paints. Our cars depend on it, so do our computers, roofs and drain pipes. It’s the global packaging material of choice. We sleep on it, wear it, watch it, and are in direct bodily contact with it in one form or other all day and night.

‘The BBC’s hugely popular Blue Planet series and a stream of scientific studies have made us aware of how the oceans are being polluted.’ Photograph: screengrab/BBC NHU

It may have profound societal benefits, but this most successful of all manmade materials sticks around for centuries. When exposed to sunlight, oxygen or the action of waves, it doesn’t biodegrade but simply fragments into smaller and smaller bits, until microscopic or nano-sized particles enter the food chain, the air, the soil and the water we drink.

The BBC’s hugely popular Blue Planet series and a stream of scientific studies have made us aware of how the oceans are being polluted, but we still have little understanding of how human health is impacted by the many synthetic chemicals and additives that are used to give plastic its qualities. In the past few years, minute microplastics and fibres, measuring the width of a human hair or far less, have been found in an extraordinary range of products, such as honey and sugar, shellfish, bottled and tap water, beer, processed foods, table salt and soft drinks.

In one study, 95% of all adults tested in the US had known carcinogenic chemical bisphenol A in their urine. In another, 83% of samples of tap water tested in seven countries were found to contain plastic microfibres. A study published last week revealed plastics contamination in more than 90% of bottled-water samples, which were from 11 different brands. And earlier this year the River Tame in Manchester was found to have 517,000 particles of plastic per cubic metre of sediment – that’s nearly double the highest concentration ever measured across the world.

The more researchers look, the more they find in the human body. The same scientists who raised the alarm on air pollution from the deadly particles emitted by diesel vehicles are now finding plastic microparticles raining down on cities, and blown into the air from cars and construction sites, washing lines and food packaging. Indoor plastic pollution may be even worse than outdoors, with a single wash of sports kit or manmade textiles found to release thousands of microfibres into the air.

At a recent UK workshop convened by the marine group Common Seas, 30 scientists, doctors and others compared notes, and agreed unanimously that plastic is now in what we eat, drink and breathe, and constitutes a significant and growing threat to human health.

A boy walks on a rubbish-filled creek to get his ball in Manila, Philippines. Photograph: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

If we can breathe in these micro- and nano-sized particles and fibres, the scientists conjecture, they are likely to get into the human bloodstream, lung tissue and breast milk, or become lodged in the gut and respiratory systems. Some microparticles may pass through the body without causing harm, others may lodge there dangerously. Many are suspected to be carcinogenic or to have hormone-disrupting properties.

The consensus is that there are great gaps in what we know about how microplastics affect human health, and that we need more robust science. We don’t know the risk when we drink contaminated bottled or tap water every day. We don’t know how much we are ingesting or breathing, or what effect exposure to hazardous plastic particles may have over years. We don’t know the concentrations that are safe for adults, let alone infants. There is mounting concern that under-studied microplastic particles threaten health by presenting a potentially major source of toxic chemicals to the human body.

Although we have known for years that some of the additives used to make plastics flexible, transparent or durable are chemically dangerous, few have been tested on humans. Some countries have banned some chemicals – but there is no consistency, and the chemical companies have found it easy to avoid regulation, finding substitutes that are potentially just as dangerous.

It is not enough to single out plastic bottles, coffee cups, or the microbeads found in cosmetics. We urgently need the government to form a comprehensive plastic action plan. Banning all plastic bags and single-use packaging would be a good start, but we need to go way beyond that. Plastic production has to be reduced, just as alternatives should be encouraged. Regulators must think about phasing out whole groups of chemicals of concern, rather than slowly restricting individual chemicals one at a time, and consumers must be helped to understand what they are being exposed to, and to navigate the complexity of what can be recycled, composted or burned.

In the 1950s the world made about 2m tonnes of plastic a year. Now that figure is 330m tonnes a year – and it is set to treble again by 2050. It’s not enough to return a few plastic bottles, or even to pick up an old mattress on a beach.

• John Vidal is a former environment editor of the Guardian

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