Plastic Waste

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:59 pm on 8th September 2021.

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Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 4:59 pm, 8th September 2021

I am delighted to participate in this debate on reducing plastic waste. A recent report from Greenpeace, called “Trashed”, highlighted the shocking truth that the UK generates more plastic per person than any other country in the world except the USA, with supermarkets and major consumer brands being the largest sources of plastic packaging. We must improve that shameful situation.

Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years, and every year some 8 million tonnes of plastic waste escape into the oceans from coastal nations, equivalent to setting five full binbags of rubbish on every beach around the world. Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year, including birds, fish and other marine organisms. Nearly 700 species, including those that are endangered, are known to be affected by plastics. Nearly every species of seabird eats plastics. However, most animal deaths are caused by entanglement or starvation. Seals, whales, turtles and other animals are strangled by abandoned fishing gear or discarded six-pack rings. Microplastics have been found in more than 100 aquatic species, and in our food chain.

The Scottish Government were the first to introduce the charge for plastic bags, and have banned personal hygiene products containing plastic microbeads and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. The work being done to ban single-use plastic cutlery, plates, straws, and food and drink containers is very important, tackling some of the most environmentally damaging single-use plastics. However, clearly more must be done at UK and international level to tackle the issue. Scotland aims to match the EU ambition for all plastic packaging to be economically recyclable or reusable by 2030, signing the New Plastics Economy global commitment, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, showing a real commitment to a circular economy for plastics.

COP26 is a pivotal moment when this serious issue can and should be tackled across the international community. It offers an opportunity to make real progress in dealing with the damage plastic causes to our world, our climate, our natural habitats and our population systems. That opportunity must not be squandered. The Break Free From Plastic movement found that Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé were the three largest plastic polluters in the world in 2020. These corporations must be held accountable for the shocking plastic waste that infects our communities and takes centuries to decompose. We must not let them off the hook. We need concerted international action to effect real and positive change; we need to consider what carrots and sticks can be used to persuade producers to reduce plastic waste. COP26 presents that opportunity to take action and ensure real accountability, and we must use it to seek to influence producer behaviour in a comprehensive and holistic way, so that we can say we are doing all we can to address the scourge of plastic waste on our world. I urge the Minister not to let that opportunity pass by, and look forward to hearing what plans she has to make sure that is firmly on the agenda.

Failure will not be forgiven by future generations. Consumers want action, and now is the time for the international community to listen to consumers and finally take real action to address the issue globally.