‘Stop talking, start acting’ on plastic waste, Chris Packham urges G7

300 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced every year but less than 10% of all plastic has ever been recycled

Harry Cockburn
Thursday 27 May 2021 07:39 BST
Animals such as turtles will eat plastic waste, mistaking it for food
Animals such as turtles will eat plastic waste, mistaking it for food (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The world’s surging levels of plastic waste can only be effectively tackled through a major unified international effort which must be enshrined in a “global plastics treaty”, figures and institutions have said.

Calling for the issue to be a priority at next month’s G7 summit in Cornwall, television presenter Chris Packham, along with Nestlé, the Co-op, and Aldi, as well as raft of politicians and NGOs are all urging the government to set out a globally aligned approach to deal with the problem.

The letter says: “Some 300 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced every year. Less than 10 per cent of all plastic has ever been recycled. The rest piles up in landfill, is incinerated, or ends up littering our natural environment for centuries.”

“Plastic has been found in our water, our food and even the air we breathe. No one on earth can avoid it. With the G7 Summit meeting in June, now is the time to put a global treaty on plastics on the agenda.”

It adds: “The plastic crisis has no borders. We will never overcome it without a globally consistent response.

The letter notes that more than 70 governments around the world have expressed support for such a plastics treaty, and campaign group A Plastic Planet, which coordinated the letter, said it believes the summit represents an opportunity for the UK government to introduce it.

Chris Packham told The Independent the fact that bees’ hairs, which are designed to attract pollen, were now becoming clogged up with micro plastics, made him want to sign the letter “in block capitals and underlined”.

He said: “I’m 60. There are plenty of organisms living out there which were alive before the invention of plastic.

“One of the greatest tragedies I ever saw was the post-mortem of a leatherback turtle which had washed ashore in South Wales. The reason it had died was it had eaten so much plastic thinking it was jellyfish, and it had compacted in its gut. That animal had hatched before we’d even invented plastic.

“It’s more than highly embarrassing that in my lifetime we’ve seen this highly damaging proliferation of plastic as a litter.”

He added: “Plastic has immense uses and benefits, but it’s the excessive use of it and the way we abandon it in the environment that is the problem.”

He said addressing the letter to the G7 leaders was a “plea for action”.

“We’ve learned of these problems now, and we’ve got potential solutions. We just have to act. That’s what the letter is about – stop talking, start acting.

“We know we can act – the hole in the ozone layer preempted climate change as a potential global threat, but we sorted it. We got rid of those CFCs. They’re not in our fridges anymore.

“So don’t tell me we can’t come up with a solution to this problem because we always do.”

The open letter also notes Covid-19’s contribution to plastic pollution, with mountains of single-use protective equipment being found dumped in the environment.

In just two months one billion items of PPE were handed out in the UK, according to A Plastic Planet, while around the world three million face masks are thrown away every minute, the majority of which contain plastic.

With the members of the G7 credited with leading the way to secure the Paris Climate Agreement, the letter calls for a similar treaty to tackle the scourge of plastic pollution.

Television presenter Liz Bonnin backed the letter alongside confectionary giant Nestlé UK & Ireland’s Head of Sustainability Dr Emma Keller and Aldi’s National Corporate Responsibility Manager Hollie Clark.

‘Don’t tell me we can’t come up with a solution to this problem’, says naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham
‘Don’t tell me we can’t come up with a solution to this problem’, says naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham (PA)

The letter was also signed by Iceland Foods Managing Director Richard Walker, The Co-operative Group’s Environment Manager Iain Ferguson, and Christina Dixon, of the Environmental Investigation Agency.

Leading campaigners supporting the calls include Hugo Tagholm of Surfers Against Sewage, Mark Spalding, the president of The Ocean Foundation, and sailing legend and ocean advocate Dee Caffari.

The letter has also attracted cross-party backing from MPs including Labour’s Geraint Davies and Mick Whitley, the Liberal Democrat’s Christine Jardine, and the Alba Party’s Kenny MacAskill.

Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, said: “One man’s trash is another man’s problem. Only a globally aligned and binding strategy will stop the forecast Increase in plastic production and the inevitable pollution.

“With governments around the world keen to join forces to stop this toxic material from polluting our children’s future, now is the time to step up the pace. We need to accelerate real action.

“The members involved in the G7 Summit have shown they can drive powerful change, as seen with the Paris Climate Agreement, and they can do the same for plastic pollution. If the government wants to be a world leader in tackling plastic, it must put a global plastics treaty on the agenda.”

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