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Prime Minister deplores plastic recycling but supports oil drilling

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has caused some debate after discouraging the recycling of plastics during a Downing Street press conference with schoolchildren on Monday, ahead of the COP26 climate change summit. Johnson argued we should reduce our plastic use rather than rely on reprocessing:

“People think that we can recycle our way out of the problem, but we’re making a huge mistake. We need to reduce our use of [plastics].” – Boris Johnson

The truth is we need to do both. According to the governments research on plastic waste, “it is estimated that five million tonnes of plastic is used every year [in the UK], nearly half of which is packaging.” The lack of legislation regarding single-use and recyclable plastics in the UK makes it harder for consumers to reduce their plastics usage as corporations continue using this cheap material. By neglecting to address the need for government intervention into plastics usage and dismissing the importance of recycling Johnson is halting progress.

Recycling is still a necessity. The British Plastics Federation lists that recycling plastic “provides a sustainable source of raw materials to the industry [,] minimises the amount of plastic being sent to the UK’s landfill sites [and] consumes less energy than producing new, virgin polymers,” amongst other reasons.

Plastic

Image taken from: British Plastics Federation; Plastic Recycling.

Plastic Packaging tax

Current efforts to address plastic in the UK include the introduction of the plastic packaging tax which will take place from April 2022 and will “apply to plastic packaging manufactured in, or imported into the UK, that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic.” It aims to create an economic incentive for businesses to use recycled plastic which will supposedly stimulate plastic collection and recycling, moving the material away from landfill. But in reality, how will the government be able to determine if an item of packaging does actually contain 30% of recycled plastic?

Johnson also acknowledged the plastic wastage of companies like Coca Cola. The Guardian covered a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2019 which addressed the plastic use of corporations as part of its aim to create a circular economy for plastic.

Through the foundation, Coca Cola declared their ‘plastic footprint’ for the first time revealing that it “produces 3m tonnes of plastic packaging a year – equivalent to 200,000 bottles a minute.” The foundation translated Coca Colas packaging footprint into 500ml polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of which it creates “about 108bn bottles a year, more than a fifth of the world’s PET bottle output of about 500bn bottles a year.”

plastics

Image taken from: The Guardian; Plastic Bottles are a Recycling Disaster.

Whilst Johnson has echoed the worlds concerns over plastics in the ocean, he continues to back plans to exploit Britain’s North Sea for oil and gas despite the net-zero targets the UK has committed to meet by 2050. The Cambo oilfield sits north-west of the Shetland Islands off the shore of the UK and contains “an estimated 800 million barrels of oil”. The oilfields owners, Shell and Siccar Point Energy, are seeking permission to extract 170 million barrels of oil. According to #StopCambo:

“The emissions from this would be equivalent to the annual carbon pollution from 18 coal-fired power stations. The companies plan to operate the field until 2050, the same year the UK has committed to be net zero.”

Stop Cambo

Image taken from: actionnetwork.org; Tell your MP to Stop Cambo.

According to the net-zero roadmap created by the International Energy Agency, “beyond  projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in [their] pathway.” Johnson said that “this was a contract that was agreed in 2001 and we can’t just tear up contracts. There’s a process to be gone through.” Though the contract was made prior to 2021, we still have a choice and the government is dangerously choosing profit over people.

As The Guardian rightly points out, “in making this shift, we can’t be leaving fossil fuel workers behind.” The Institute for Public Policy Research reports that “some 260,000 jobs are linked to the oil and gas industries across the UK, including 230,000 in the on-shore supply chain.” Places like Aberdeen where more than 10% of all jobs are dependent on gas and oil will need infrastructure in place to prevent economic and social decline.

The devastation of Margaret Thatcher is still felt deeply by mining communities today after the shutting of the coal mines in the 1980s. Johnson controversially thanked Thatcher back in August for transitioning away from coal, wrongly suggesting her motivation behind coal mine closures was climate change based.

Ultimately, there is a need for stricter government legislation on plastic use so corporations are left with no option but to seek out greener processes. The government must also commit completely to pursuing green energy and creating a safe transition for fossil fuel workers. If world leaders like Johnson continue to pick profit over the safety of the planet by supporting incredibly damaging processes like oil drilling, our plastic consumption won’t even matter.

The COP26 summit, set to take place from the 31st of October to the 12th of November, will see a host of world leaders address the danger of climate change. Johnsons spokesperson called it “a critical moment for world leaders to demonstrate they can show the climate ambition needed”. It is time for Johnson to demonstrate his commitment.

 

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