Plastic pollution on a beach

Plastic problem: why we need government action

Plastic is almost inescapable. Asking people to avoid plastic just isn’t realistic unless we get tough on the companies producing it.
  Published:  11 Apr 2019    |      3 minute read

Plastic pollution is suffocating the planet. Nowhere is immune.

It’s been found in the highest mountains and deepest oceans. We’ve even discovered tiny plastic waste in Britain's most iconic and remote rivers, lakes and reservoirs – including the seemingly crystal-clear waters of the Lake District.

Who is affected by plastic pollution?

Scientists have found plastic in air, drinking water, seafood and human stools. As well as the health concerns, wildlife can become entangled in it or end up ingesting it.

Plastic hangs around in the environment for at least hundreds of years. It doesn’t disappear, it just breaks down into tiny pieces that continue to pollute our lives.

Underwater image of plastic pollution in the ocean
Plastic pollution in the ocean
Credit: istock

And one study has now revealed that plastics degrading in our oceans are releasing methane – a potent greenhouse gas.

Avoiding it is more difficult than it sounds. It’s in so many of the everyday things we buy. In a lot of cases it’s hidden from plain sight, lurking in everything from teabags and beer caps, to clothes and cosmetics.

Tell the UK government that we need a new law to phase out plastic pollution.

Solving the plastic problem

We can all do our bit to reduce the plastic we use. But with the amount of plastic produced set to grow by 40% over the next decade, our individual efforts will never be enough to solve the problem. We need government action.

The government has made some encouraging pledges to act on things like cotton buds and straws. But to tackle all the many sources of plastic pollution, we need legislation that commits the government to phasing it out.

We're not suggesting an outright ban on plastics. Some plastics are essential or hard to replace – getting rid of them could lead to worse social and environmental outcomes.

Equally, as the coronavirus has shown us, personal protective equipment made from plastic can play a huge role in protecting our healthcare professionals and saving lives. But we must not give in to misinformation glorifying single-use plastic.

Part of the process will involve identifying essential plastics and eradicating all the rest.

Examples of everyday plastic waste in our lives including disposable coffee cups and food packaging
Plastic has become an inescapable part of modern-day life.
Credit: Friends of the Earth

The Plastic Pollution Bill

Together with our partners in the Women’s Institute, Greenpeace, Surfers Against Sewage, Keep Britain Tidy, and many others, we're pushing a piece of legislation called the Plastic Pollution Bill.

The bill is based on the Climate Change Act, won with the help of our supporters, and it commits this and future governments to stopping the flow of plastic into our waterways and oceans. It outlines the best way not just to set targets for the government, but offers guidance on how to meet those targets. The bill calls for a phase out of plastic pollution where possible and encourages "reduce and reuse" as an alternative to our throw-away economy.

The Plastic Pollution Bill is already gathering pace, with MPs from across the main parties as well as many other charities and organisations supporting it.

Tell the UK government that we need a new law to phase out plastic pollution.

Support for the bill

Members of Parliament across the main parties back our call for legislation, with many of them putting pressure on the government and championing the bill to help it on its way to becoming law. Over 20 MPs came on board after meeting up with one of our local groups.

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, holding a banner up with Quentin Given, Tottenham and Wood Green Friends of the Earth. The banner declares David's support for a plastics law to phase out non-essential plastics
David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, and Quentin Given of Tottenham and Wood Green Friends of the Earth
Credit: Friends of the Earth

A wide range of Non-Governmental Organisations organisations also support the bill:

Companies Abel & Cole, Alex Monroe, House of Hackney, KeepCup, Neal’s Yard, and Toast Ale have pledged their support, as have the Mayors of Greater Manchester and Hackney, Hindu Council UK, and the Muslim Council of Britain.

Help us get a new plastics law

There’s still a long way to go to make this new law a reality. To really get it moving, we need a commitment from the Environment Secretary, George Eustice.

We’ve achieved great things this way in the past. It’s how we won the Climate Change Act – the world’s first law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We need thousands of people to send messages to their MPs and the Secretary of State. This could be the thing that puts our new law on the government’s radar and persuades them to take action.

Tell the UK government that we need a new law to phase out plastic pollution.