A plastic bottle fee isn’t enough to save the planet – here’s why

Piecemeal policy will never deliver the change our country and our planet requires, and bond action is needed now.

The government has recently been getting a lot of good press for their decision to institute a bottle return scheme. With good reason.  It’s a good idea.

Having delayed for a long time, it has finally seen sense and got off the blocks. But that’s the key point here. It is nowhere near the finish line.

To truly cut down on plastic the economy – the way we produce and consume – needs reprogramming.

We can’t continue to focus on the tip of the (melting) iceberg. We need a joined up plan to move away from dependence on fossil fuels.

Firstly, if the Government really want to cut down the level of plastic produced, it would bring forward the unambitious target of eliminating unavoidable single use plastics by 2042. The sooner we implement that, the sooner we see Britain’s plastic bottle consumption plummet.

Britons consume 3 billion litres of bottled water per year. 35 million plastic bottles are bought every day, that’s 200 per person every year. 44% of these bottles are not recycled.

This means that every day 16 million plastic bottles end up in landfill, incinerated or simply dumped on the side of the road.

By phasing out single-use plastics in the medium term, we can cut back on a huge amount of this pollution.

Secondly, we need to get serious about our over-reliance on fossil fuels, such as the crude oil used to produce plastics. If the Government stopped support and subsidy of fossil fuel extraction, we would see a meaningful decline in fossil fuel production. And this includes ending its support for new industries like fracking and companies like INEOS who will use what they extract in the production of plastics.

We also need to look at how we use the tax system to incentivise change among both producers and consumers.  Let’s lower the cost of plastic alternatives by reforming VAT. If a product doesn’t pollute then in makes sense that we should make it cheaper to buy. At the same time, putting a price on excessive packaging will lower the demand for it. We’ve seen this work with the plastic bag charge.

The British people have shown that they want to be green, by making these changes the Government can give them that opportunity.

Of course we also need to seriously invest in renewables and support the Green energy revolution that is happening all around us. As with the global revolution in renewable energy it will be business that drives the change.

In withdrawing support for solar and on shore wind, the Government missed the chance to make the UK a world leader in renewable energy. It cannot afford to miss another opportunity to make the country a leader in alternatives to plastics. But to seize the moment it must take bond action now.

Jonathan Bartley is co-leader of the Green Party and tweets here.

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