General Legal Advice Clinic

Surfing in Rubbish

E6T765 Plastic Waste washed up at shore, Turneffe Atoll, Caribbean, Belize

Here in Portsmouth Storm Eleanor caused minor damage to our coastal city; the occasional wheelie bin falling over and a few less leaves on the trees. But for our Cornish friends in the west Storm Eleanor highlighted the catastrophic damage human actions are causing to our planet.

With wind speeds reaching 100mph our oceans spat out the rubbish that we have been feeding it over past decades. Items such as a 1986 Mexico World Cup cigarette lighter and tins of beans from the soviet era found their way onto Cornish beaches. Recently David Attenborough’s BBC programme Blue Planet II also acted as a reminder of the damage we are doing to our planet, estimating that by 2050 the weight of plastic in our oceans will exceed the weight of fish!

So with the issue of waste literally on our shores now our Government has made the reduction of waste a key issue in their 25 year environment plan. By adopting the plan the Government have set out 10 key goals:

  1. Clean air.
  2. Clean and plentiful water.
  3. Thriving plants and wildlife.
  4. A reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards such as flooding and drought.
  5. Using resources from nature more sustainably and efficiently.
  6. Enhanced beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment.
  7. Mitigating and adapting to climate change.
  8. Minimising waste.
  9. Managing exposure to chemicals.
  10. Enhancing biosecurity.

Within the plan the Government has stated it aims to implement a tax on takeaway containers, have plastic free aisles in Supermarkets, extend the 5p charge on plastic bags to smaller shops and implement a ban on all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042. The current 5p charge on plastic bags started on 5th October 2015 and can be seen as a success with a reduction of over 80% of production on plastic bags in the UK. However large retailers in England sold 2.1 billion plastic bags from 7th April 2016 to 6th April 2017. And by 2015 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste had been generated globally with only 9% recycled and 80% going to landfill.

So clearly there is an issue of plastic waste in the UK, but the real issue is globally. We can only truly effect our waste domestically and set examples for the world that will hopefully follow suite. The banning of microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics and cleaning products in England that took effect on 9th January 2018, to be followed by a sales ban on 1st July 2018, is hopefully an initiative that other countries will rally behind.

­Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said that while initiatives like these were good, “more radical and comprehensive policies” were needed to tackle the plastic waste crisis;

“We need to see supermarkets making firm commitments to move away from using disposable plastic packaging altogether, starting with going plastic free in their own brands.”

Closer to home the government is also considering issuing fines to households whose rubbish ends up being dumped illegally by unauthorised disposal companies. This would give councils the power to directly fine individuals caught using unlicensed waste carriers, which will hopefully encourage homeowners to check that their waste is being disposed of legally when not using the relevant local authority. The aim is to stop or at a minimum deter fly-tippers and illegal waste sites, which have been a great cost to local councils and tax payers. In 2016-2017 councils in England dealt with more than 1 million incidents of fly tipping, costing tax payers £58 million, and more than 850 illegal dumping grounds were uncovered by the Environment Agency in 2017.

So when you are next clearing out your garden or renovating rooms in your home do your research online and make sure that you are dealing with companies with a waste carrier’s licence and not the guy you met at the pub with a skip lorry. Although these changes are not yet law consider how your waste is changing the landscape you live in and that future generations will inherit. Ensure that you use council run household waste recycling centres and skip hire services from local authorised and licenced companies. That way you know that your waste is being recycled or disposed of in the correct environmentally friendly manner.

The fight to save our planet starts at home and doing the small things like using our recycling bins and taking our litter home with us when we are at the beach may just seem like a drop in the ocean. But with big players like Supermarket chain Iceland committing to eliminate or drastically reduce plastic packaging of all its own-label products by the end of 2023, we can hopefully start to make some waves.

by Jack MacFarlane, Student Advisor


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *