On Monday, 11th March, Plastic Oceans UK hosted an event at parliament alongside the Coalition for Global Prosperity and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Prevention of Plastic Waste. Our CEO Jo Ruxton addressed 150 MPs and business leaders on the plastic problem whilst overlooking the River Thames. The location couldn’t be more apt. Not only does the Thames contain plastic pollution, but has also recently discovered biodiversity in the form of seahorses.
After showing the emotionally impactful trailer of A Plastic Ocean, Theo Clarke reminded us we only have one planet which we must protect for ourselves and future generations. Ann Main MP, chair of the APPG on the Prevention of Plastic Waste then delivered her opening remarks, emphatically underlining that “this isn’t just for Lent”. She wanted industries to hear that this is consumers saying “we don’t wish to have this done in our name. We don’t wish to have so much rubbish polluting our environment. And we don’t wish to inflict it on other countries either”. As MP for St Albans, she reflected that we need to start caring about the sea even we’re nowhere near it.
Next Sir David Attenborough took to the stage, requiring no introduction. He captivated the entire room and gave an impassioned speech, reminding us of the 400 million tonnes of plastic produced annually, 10 million of which enters the ocean. Unafraid of directly acknowledging our responsibility in causing this crisis, he described the amount of plastic we produce in this country “as a matter of shame”. He elucidated on the heart of the problem, stating “all this plastic, we try to dispose of it but actually, we can’t, and we export it to other countries around the world to ask them to do our dirty work and wash our hands of it. China has refused to have it, at last. Where’s it going to go?“.
He also reflected on working with our CEO JO Ruxton on the original Blue Planet. “One of the production team, a very remarkable woman in my book, was so moved by what she discovered when she was researching about plastic pollution, that she actually gave up her job, and decided that she would work, herself, one woman, she would get on with it and do something about rousing the nation’s conscience”. He stated that it was as a result of her work, that the Blue Planet II plastic segment was included.
Following one of the greatest speakers of our age was only made easy due to his beaming endorsement, as Jo stepped forward. She delivered a passionate speech about how our single-use, convenience lifestyles must be addressed. She stated that “we can’t simply replace ‘disposable plastic’ with another disposable alternative that will bring another raft of problems with it. We are now all aware – now, we need to ‘re-learn plastic’ to drive behaviour change”. Our strategy, that we launched at the event, sets out our mission to drive to that behaviour change.
After Jo, the Secretary of State for International Development Penny Morduant announced the government will double its UK aid support for pilot schemes to improve plastic recycling in some of the world’s poorest countries, from £3 million to £6 million. These UK aid-supported pilot projects will work alongside global businesses like Coca-Cola and Unilever, governments, and waste collectors to increase the amount of plastic waste collected and reused. It also announced plans to host a meeting with the World Economic Forum’s Global Plastics Action Partnership about how the global plastic supply chain can be made more sustainable.
The questions were varied, covering the issues of misinformation, Eco-design and new technologies. Mary Creagh gave a fantastic example of ‘unjoined-up’ government thinking, highlighting the Department of Transport’s ‘plastic roads’ trial, already when a large percentage of UK microplastic come from car tyres. Roger Wright, senior product technologist at Marks & Spencer, spoke about the innovations allowing his company to be zero waste by 2025. He voiced his approval of our need to #relearnplastic. Jo responded to a question which overlapped with a request for solutions to plastic already in the ocean from Penny Mordaunt, highlighting the faults with the Ocean Cleanup Project and the economic and ecological impossibility of removing plastic from the ocean. To read why we need to focus on prevention, check out Jo’s blog on the issue.
We also benefitted from the insight of Professor Richard Thompson from Plymouth University, who spoke about the fact that while developing nations are key, it’s not a problem that originates or is only solved in the developed world. He underlined that we have a moral obligation to help those nations as we are better equipped to deal with our waste than they are. We must export current technologies, as opposed to current practices, let alone our waste. He underlined that, while we have scientific evidence of the problem, we need scientific evidence of the solutions so that through communication of the right measures, we can educate and drive behaviour change appropriately.
We would like to thank the APPG for the Prevention of Plastic Waste and the Coalition for Global Prosperity and most of all Sir David Attenborough, for his ongoing support in helping us stop plastic entering the ocean within a generation.