Steve Double is Member of Parliament for St Austell and Newquay.
Next week, on 6th February, I am hosting an event calling on MPs to pledge to cut the amount of plastic used in Parliament with the aim of making the UK the first plastic free Parliament.
I am doing this in my capacity of Chairman of the Protect our Waves All Party Parliamentary Group, working with Sky TV.
In the Cornish constituency of St Austell and Newquay, which I am proud to represent, we have many miles of stunning coastline, beautiful beaches, and amazing seascapes. People come from all over the world to enjoy our wonderful natural environment.
Yet interspersed with all of this is all too obvious marine menace – the plastic foe that has invaded our waters.
Since my election in 2015 I have chaired the Protect Our Waves APPG and, along with the renowned campaigners at Cornish charity Surfers Against Sewage, have worked hard to highlight the problems we are storing up for ours and future generations with our reckless use of single-use plastics.
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 seven billion people produced over 320 million tons of plastic. This is set to double by 2034. Every day approximately eight million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans and there may now be around 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the open ocean, altogether weighing up to 269,000 tonnes.
In Britain, approximately 5000 items of marine plastic pollution have been found per mile of beach and on average over 150 plastic bottles can be found on each mile of UK beaches.
On top of this, recent studies have revealed marine plastic pollution in 100 per cent of marine turtles, 59 per cent of whales, 36 per cent of seals, and 40 per cent of seabird species examined; 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million sea birds are killed by marine plastic pollution annually.
These shocking facts were highlighted by the recent BBC Blue Planet as well as being brought to the public’s attention by other campaigns such as the Sky News Ocean Rescue.
Recently, and in the last year in particular, this Government has taken steps to reduce the amount of plastics we use and waste. There is the plastic bag charge, which was just extended in the recent Budget, that has caused nine billion fewer bags to be used since its introduction in 2015 and generated more than £66m for good causes from the income generated by the charge.
The Government has recently brought in the ban on microbeads in cosmetic products, which were putting hundreds of thousands of tiny pieces of plastic into our drains every time we showered.
There is also the campaign to bring in a deposit scheme for single use plastic bottles, and the recent announcement by the Prime Minister that the Government will be working with retailers to introduce plastic-free supermarket aisles as part of the 25 Year Environment Plan – a great move to cut down on some of the frankly ridiculous amounts of plastic packaging we get on food purchases such as fruit and vegetables.
These are all great initiatives and along with this, public awareness of the plastic waste problem has never been higher. There are plenty of grassroots movements starting to look at how we as communities can address the problem.
Several originate in Cornwall, including: the Refill initiative, which sees businesses providing free water to encourage less use of single use plastic bottles; the Final Straw group, which looks at eliminating plastic straws from our hospitality sector; and the Plastic Free town movement, which recently saw Penzance pledge to become the first plastic free town in the country.
Members of Parliament, as community leaders, have our own role to play in raising awareness, taking a lead, and setting an example on this important matter. That is why I am pleased to be working with Sky and Surfers Against Sewage to bring forward the Plastic Free Parliament Campaign. Specifically, this campaign is all about getting MPs to practise what many of us preach and sign up to reduce the amount of plastic we use in our offices.
I am looking forward to the event and hope this will be another step the fight against plastic waste.