Legislation: A clear solution to plastic pollution
. One day after others persuaded Ben McCormick to clean up—in the fight against plastic pollution—individual actions are no substitute for legislation
Cuckmere Haven in East Sussex has one of England’s most iconic landscapes: a series of undulating, steep chalk cliffs that meet the English Channel from the rolling south hills. The Seven Sisters rose spectacularly from the sea like a group of baleen whales, but I did not notice them today. I walked back from the beach angrily and climbed up a long, steep grass and flint, holding as many washed plastic bottles as possible in my hand. All I saw was a small part scattered around the coastline.
There are no recycling points in this scenic area, only dog dung containers and trash bins near the ice cream supplier. Even if tourists have sufficient responsibility to use trash cans for plastic bottles (many people do not), there is no guarantee that they will not end up in the sea. Obviously, more than 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, and a large part of it is discarded plastic bottles.
I think that since its launch, a simple matter such as charging for disposable plastic bags in supermarkets has had a profound impact on changing the behavior of the British public. It is now common for customers in these stores to struggle to balance the unfeasible number of items—due to charges—and they find that they no longer "need" a bag. This is both funny and a good reminder of the extent to which this kind of legislation can change society; for the better. Of course, do plastic bottles also change the rules of the game?
Of course there is. The Deposit Return Scheme (DRS)-the kind that was once widely used for glass bottles-can lower the cost of the city council and reduce waste. A report recently released by the United Kingdom found that they could save up to 35 million pounds for Parliament every year by reducing littering and landfill costs and reducing recycling costs.
Not only that, these systems are also very elegant, efficient and very popular. Every time you buy a plastic bottle, you have to pay a deposit, which will be refunded when you return it to the store. Then, when the cycle continues, they are sorted and recycled, and then refilled by the beverage company. In places that already have these systems—such as Germany and Denmark—more than 90% of plastic bottles are now recycled, and waste is usually reduced by 80%. Considering that millions of plastic bottles are thrown away every hour, this means that our oceans and rivers have much less plastic pollution, and there is much less plastic in landfills and incinerators.
There is also strong evidence that people want these plans too. Opinion polls show that, on average, about 80% of people want DRS on plastic bottles. For example, in Scotland, a survey by the Scottish Rural Conservation Association showed that approximately 78% of the public support DRS. The Scottish government has taken note; its chief minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced in September that the country will launch such a plan.
"This is an important part of the Scottish government's plan," said David Barnes, the Scottish Zero Waste Project Manager. “In June of this year, we released the results of the evidence gathering meeting on a possible deposit return program for plastic bottles and cans. After that, the government approved it, so we are now investigating how the program should be designed to make it effective for the public, Retailers, manufacturers, and the environment are all effective."
This is an idea that is popular in other parts of the UK. Taking the effectiveness of a tax on single-use plastic bags as an example, Environment Minister Michael Gove announced consultations on the feasibility of introducing a similar system in England.
"If we are to be the first generation to put our environment in a better state than we found it, we must protect our oceans and marine life from plastic waste," he said. "We want to hear people's thoughts on how to make [DRS] work in England."
But if these plans apply to bottles and cans, why stop there? Of course, they are equally effective for other things that are more difficult to recycle, such as batteries, mobile phones and even fishing nets. In July of this year, a study conducted by Rezero and Zero Waste Europe found that economic incentives through DRS can effectively increase the return rate of products that need to be collected separately or are potentially dangerous. In this line, the German city of Freiburg showed us how to extend the concept of deposit to other problematic items, such as coffee cups, and try to prevent thousands of cups from becoming waste. Taking the discarded bottles back from the beach, I realized that my personal actions were just so good. I learned this behavior from others, and I hope to pass it on to others. But in the end, I hope I don't need it in the future, because my cleanup produced relatively trivial results. Bringing real change depends on legislation, not just the efforts of the individuals involved. This means not only being a good role model for others, but also lobbying legislators to introduce these systems into DRS systems that do not currently exist.
"Legislation can change society; for the better. Are plastic bottles sure to change the rules of the game as well? Of course there is. Deposit rebate plan."
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