Reducing Plastic Waste: Charge the Industry, not the Customers

Student Campaigner Amalie Henden tells why she thinks the “latte levy” should be aimed at corporations rather than milking the customers.

We drink from plastic bottles, we buy food wrapped in plastic and chances are we even carry it home in a plastic bag.

Photo Credit: Pixaby

The amount of plastic we purchase keeps increasing, and most would agree it is time for a change. The government just introduced another charge for customers to pay a fee when buying coffee served in single-use plastic cups, and by doing that is yet again avoiding fixing the real problem; the industry producing and purchasing it.

In January, Members of Parliament on the environmental audit committee called for 25p to be charged on top of the price of a hot drink, to reduce coffee cup wastage. The “latte levy” started in February as a part of an introduction program, where 35 Starbucks shops, including Starbucks Uxbridge, across London is charging 5p per single-use paper cups.

The government also introduced a 5p charge for all single-use plastic carrier bags in October 2015 in an attempt to encourage people to reuse bags.

It is not only fair to blame big corporations for the plastic crisis the world is experiencing, it is right. The British government is wrong by yet again charging customers for the attempt of reducing plastic waste, and the question remains; why are they not charging the corporations producing and purchasing it? They are the ones making millions by selling products wrapped in the single-use plastic, and by doing so, contaminating the planet.

Recently, Brunel University London welcomed the local community to talk about plastic pollution in the seminar “Plastic, Pollution and the Planet.” Professor in Human Toxicology at Brunel, Andreas Kortkampen, says: “In the last five years we have produced more plastic than the previous hundred combined. There is a vicious circle going around where the industry keeps producing and the customers keep buying.” He continues to say that simply recycling is not enough, and that the blame should be put where it belongs: the industry.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Civic Engagement Professor William Leahy says: “There is loads of local support to reduce waste from single-use plastic, but the issue is that people do not know where to start. This talk was about offering information and solutions.”

Professor Leahy says people do not realise that simply recycling is not enough: “It is our duty to try and change our behaviour when it comes to waste and contamination. Instead of thinking what you should do with all the plastic you have bought, think before you buy it. Ask yourself; do you really need it?”

The deputy vice-chancellor who himself is a vegan, has come across multiple ways of reducing his plastic consumption and urges people to think of ways to live a more sustainable life. “Source water or reuse the bottle, do not buy shower gel, but buy hard shampoo and soap, and lastly; always think before you buy. The biggest issue with pollution is the industry, so by not purchasing plastic products you are doing a lot,” Professor Leahy explains.

A Starbucks spokesperson did not want to comment, but referred to their webpage which explains: “We know for many of our customers it is frustrating not to be able to recycle paper cups. The challenge is the inner polyethylene liner, which makes this difficult. But it can be done. We've trialled a new approach with our waste services provider to try and tackle this challenge - if we can separate cups from the rest of our waste, they can be properly recycled so we are rolling out a way of delivering uncontaminated, used paper cups to recycling facilities. (…) Plus, we also sell a £1 reusable cup, as well as a range of stylish tumblers in our stores.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, just announced a new network of drinking fountains and bottle-refill points set to be rolled out across London this year as part of a plan to reduce the amount of waste created by single-use plastic.

MPs are also calling for the UK to adopt a Norwegian deposit-based system for recycling bottles. Whilst only half of the plastic bottles in the UK get recycled, 97 per cent of the bottles in Norway get converted into reusable material through an industry-led scheme. Advisers to government say the schemes have massively reduced plastic litter in the environment and seas.

According to The Guardian, a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number will jump another 20 per cent by 2021, creating an environmental crisis some campaigners predict will be as serious as climate change.

Brunel is, according to Mr. Leahy, working on being a more sustainable university and are pushing for a change. Last year five bottle-refill points were installed in the Lecture Centre, and plastic straws are officially being removed from a number of Brunel University’s restaurants and venues.

More water fountains and bottle-refill points should be available on campus, preferably in every building, and students and staff should have an option to not purchase bottles every time they get thirsty.

In all fairness, thank you for trying, but the government and corporations taking part in the new scheme is portraying the “latte levy” as an extraordinarily great thing for the residents of the United Kingdom, when they are really just putting the blame where it should not be.

Amalie Henden has been campaigning at Brunel University to introduce bottle refills and water fountains to reduce single-use plastic.

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