Get your council to go plastic free

Political action

11 Jan 2019

The need for government action

Taking action in our communities and making changes to our own lifestyles is essential to reducing the amount of plastic we use. But it isn’t enough on its own to stem the tide of plastic polluting our oceans, towns and countryside.

To really make a difference, the government must lead the way. It must create laws to phase out plastic pollution and push companies to design safer and more environmentally friendly products.

We need legislation because we need action from this and future governments across the huge range of polluting uses of plastic. There are some welcome initiatives such as plans to ban plastic straws and cotton-bud and tax other single-use plastics. These are piecemeal and disconnected though and ignore the huge range of other plastic polluters such as from clothes, fishing nets, car tyres and paints.

Ultimately most uses of plastic should be phased out if we are to end the plastic pollution crisis. Exceptions must be made for hard-to-replace and essential uses, such as plastic straws for people with disabilities.

Some uses of plastic (e.g. plastic coffee stirrers) can be dealt with now but others are much more difficult to tackle, such as the tiny bits of plastic that come out when we wash our clothes or from car tyres.

Just as we did with the Climate Change Act, we need to lock this and future governments into taking action to stop all these uses of plastic from harming wildlife and risking human health.

A Plastic Pollution Action Plan, backed up by legislation

In order to prepare the ground for government action, we need to start building support in parliament. We need MPs to help drive forward the push for legislation. In order to do that we need to start getting commitments from them in public that they are in favour of government action backed up by legislation.

This is where the Action Plan comes in. The Action Plan will act like a pledge MPs can make to state their commitment to effective legislation to cut plastic pollution. It contains three commitments:

  • Now: Begin phasing out unneeded plastics, making exceptions for essential uses such as in medicine and those vital to the quality of life of disabled people.

  • ASAP: End pollution from hard-to-replace plastics (like from car tyres, clothing etc).

  • Aim for near zero plastic pollution by 2042 (this coincides with the end of the Conservative Party’s 25-year Environment Plan which pledges to end the use of ‘avoidable’ plastic).

Crucially, the Action Plan must be backed up by legislation as that’s the only way we can be sure the full power of this and future governments will be brought to bear on tackling the many sources of plastic pollution.

If enough MPs pledge their support this will pressure the government to passing legislation supporting our Action Plan. Some may respond that the government is already acting on plastic though so we need to be clear that we are asking them to stand up for the Action Plan backed by legislation.

How we could win

We’re looking to build a group of at least 20 MPs to publicly support the Action Plan between now and January 2019.

We want 20 MPs at this stage because we have a very big opportunity to influence a piece of legislation which will come into force next year called the Environment Bill. The Environment Bill is the legislation that the government must produce for when the UK leaves the European Union, which says which laws we will keep or adopt to protect our environment. We know the Environment bill will feature plastic pollution but very likely won’t do so strongly enough. The government could legislate for the Action Plan in the Environment bill so you could ask your MP if he or she would lobby the government to put it there.

How getting your MP on board could help bring about a change in the law on plastics

Local groups and activists are the best placed people to get their MPs on board. Getting a meeting with an MP face to face is by far the most effective way to persuade them, followed by letters, emails and social media.

Between now and January 2019, we’d like lots of local groups to pay visits to their MPs.

This is a special opportunity to work together to contribute to some real change to halt plastic pollution.

Write to edward.burke@foe.co.uk if you’d like to visit your MP.

Get your MP to support the Plastic Pollution Action Plan

The important thing to remember is that your MP needs to publicly support the Action Plan backed up by legislation in order for their support to be meaningful and effective. Here’s 2 simple ways you can get them to show their backing in public.

Thangam Debonnaire, MP for Bristol West showing her support for the Plastic Pollution Action Plan

  1. Post a picture of them holding the Action Plan placard on social media. The placard in the picture above has all the wording needed to spell out exactly what the MP is supporting. So a simple post of a picture of them holding it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram will be enough. Encouraging people to share it will be helpful, as it starts to generate a buzz and encourages other MPs to follow suit. Remember to use #PlasticPollution as well so more people can find your post. You can order an A2 poster version of the placard on our website, or download and print one here.

  2. Feature them in the local paper. Use this template press release to send to your local news outlets. Include a photo of the MP with the placard if possible, and get them to sign off a quote which spells out their support for an Action Plan backed up by legislation. There’s a sample quote in the press release you can use.

Meeting your MP about the Plastic Pollution Action Plan – all you need to know

So you’re planning to meet your MP to ask them to support action from the government to tackle the plastic pollution crisis. Great, and thank you! MP support will be crucial to winning the legislation we need to clean up our oceans.

Here’s all the info and tips you’ll need to visit your MP with confidence.

NOTE: There’s more general guidance on how to lobby decision makers here which will help you prepare for your meeting.

You can find all the supporting resources for your meeting with your MP here.

5 top tips for a successful meeting with your MP:

  1. Bring it back to the local – have you been doing local actions to tackle plastic pollution? Tell your MP what you’ve done. If you’ve discovered a particular local issue with plastic, e.g. you’ve done litter picking and have found a local river which is full of plastic pollution, this is really useful to bring up.

  2. Tell your MP why you personally care about the issue – this will make you seem more human and like someone who is passionate about it

  3. Tell your MP why they should care – what is it about plastic pollution that your MP should care about, and why is their getting involved important?

  4. Tell your MP what he/ she can do to help fix the problem - you’ll be doing this anyway as it’s the point of the meeting, but emphasise why them taking action could make a real difference

  5. Smile, and go for it! Your MP is only human, and MPs do genuinely want to help their constituents, so as long as you’re well prepared there’s no need to be nervous.

Meeting your MP

What are you asking your MP to do?

You’re asking them to publically support a Plastic Pollution Action Plan, backed up by legislation.

Why are you asking them for this?

We need the government to take action to phase out all unnecessary and unsafe plastics. Some of these are simpler than others, such as plastic straws or coffee cups. Others are more complicated, like plastic in paint and clothing. So legislation will be really important to committing the government to tackle all these sources of plastic pollution.

We want MPs to support the Action Plan at this stage because we have a very big opportunity to influence a piece of legislation which will come into force next year called the Environment Bill. The Environment Bill is the legislation that the government must produce for when the UK leaves the European Union, which says which laws we will keep or adopt to protect our environment. We know the Environment bill will feature plastic pollution but very likely won’t do so strongly enough. The government could legislate for the Action Plan in the Environment bill so you could ask your MP if he or she would lobby the government to put it there.

Why do we need action to tackle all these sources of plastic?

Twelve million tonnes of plastic pollution pour into the oceans every year , with still more spread over land, buried in soil or lying in lakes and rivers. It has been found at the highest mountains and in the deepest ocean trenches, in fields and parks, tap water, everyday food and the very air we breathe.

There is a growing understanding that plastic pollution isn’t just familiar nuisances like excessive packaging and disposable coffee cups. Vast amounts of ‘microplastics’ also come from the wear and tear of vehicle tyres, synthetic clothes and paints.

This affects wildlife in many harmful and damaging ways including when animals ingest it mistaking it for food, when they become entangled in it and when they’re food and water is polluted by toxic chemicals from plastic. See our briefing Ending plastic pollution for more detail.

How can your MP show public support?

Here’s 2 simple ways you can get them to show their backing in public.

  1. Post a picture of them holding the Action Plan placard on social media. The placard has all the wording needed to spell out exactly what the MP is supporting. So a simple post of a picture of them holding it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram will be enough. Encouraging people to share it will be helpful, as it starts to generate a buzz and encourages other MPs to follow suit. Remember to use #PlasticPollution as well so more people can find your post.

  2. Feature them in the local paper. Use this template press release to send to your local news outlets. Include a photo of the MP with the placard if possible, and get them to sign off a quote which spells out their support for an Action Plan backed up by legislation. There’s a sample quote in this template press release you can use.

NOTE: Remember, even if your MP does support the Action Plan, it’s still very worthwhile gathering local support from people and businesses in the community. This will be really important further down the line when we need to hold our MPs to account to take action in Parliament.

What does the action plan call for?

It calls for 3 key things:

  • Right now, begin the phase-out of unnecessary single-use plastics: items like straws, coffee cups and stirrers should be rapidly removed from circulation. Exceptions should be made for plastics that are essential for health and well-being, such as straws for people with disabilities.

  • As soon as we can, end pollution from hard-to-replace plastics: a third of plastic pollution comes from the wear and tear of car tyres, clothes and paints, but with government support the UK’s world-leading researchers and designers can end pollution from these too.

  • Aim for near zero plastics pollution by 2042, in line with the government’s 25-Year Environment Plan, which should cover all significant sources of plastic pollution.

What if they don’t support it straight away?

You can give them a copy of this briefing and this summary and ask them to read it over and get back to you. Don’t forget to follow up with an email or phone call to make sure you get a response.

What if they still don’t support it?

If they still won’t show support for the Action Plan, it’s time to get more people from the local community calling for it, including local businesses. Start talking to businesses and shops to get them on board, then you can demonstrate that there is wide support from local business leaders for action.

Sticky questions your MP could ask you

NOTE – remember, you do not need to be an expert on the issue – you only need to be passionate about it. You are a local constituent, so you are not expected to know everything you need to know. if you’re asked a question you can’t answer, don’t try and bluff it as your MP will see through you. Thank them for the question and then tell them that you’ll find out some more information on it and get back to them.

  1. The government is already taking action – Michael Gove announced the other day that plastic straws and cotton buds could be banned in as little as a year’s time. So the problem is already being dealt with.

We welcome the action that the government is taking to phase out and ban some of these single-use plastic items. But there are many uses of plastic which are not being tackled, especially those hard-to-replace plastics in things like paint, clothing and car tyres. We need an action plan that commits the government to tackling all sources of plastic pollution and phasing them out over time.

2It’s businesses and corporations which need to change the materials they use, but it’s not the role of government to impose that change.

Corporations do need to change, and many of them are taking steps in the right direction. But currently there is no obligation for them to do so. Legislation that commits government to a phase out of all unnecessary plastics means that all these sources of plastic will need to be tackled, so none of them slip through the net.

3. Shouldn’t we be focusing our efforts on recycling more plastic?

We do need to recycle more plastic – only 9% of plastic has ever been recycled.

But recycling will not solve the problem. We need to be producing less plastic in the first place and ultimately a phase out of polluting plastics is needed. This is because:

  • Most plastic recycling today is actually downcycling, into another lower quality material. Examples include plastic from bottles and other uses being made into fleece jackets, plastic ‘gravel’ and road surfaces, all of which then release micro-plastics – tiny plastic particles - through wear and tear.

  • Much plastic waste, such as film and crisp packets, is of such low value that companies have to pay to have it removed. This is because manufacturers use lightweight plastics or combine different types of plastic and other materials into ‘composites’. These and other chemicals which are added to make them much harder to recycle.

  • The chemicals found in many plastics makes them much harder to be recycled for different uses. For example, chemicals in plastics used in industrial settings cannot be used in plastics meant for food and drink.

  • Because the trade of recycling around the world is not transparent, it means that we can’t know for sure if all the materials we send overseas actually get recycled. We need better funding of the bodies that regulate this (such as the Environment Agency). We also need councils and businesses to check and report whether the waste they send abroad is recycled before counting it towards their targets.

  • Many countries being sent increasing waste from abroad are struggling to process it safely. Because the waste industries in many countries are not well equipped to deal with so much rubbish, people can become exposed to dangerous toxic chemicals. There is also a risk that these countries simply send the ‘recycling’ to incinerators and landfills that release more pollution

Full wording of the Plastic Pollution Action Plan

Plastic pollution is choking marine life, ruining our countryside, and blighting our lives.

It’s time the government adopted a Plastic Pollution Action Plan, backed up by legislation, to:

  • Right now: begin the phase-out of unnecessary single-use plastics

Plastic items that are unnecessary, easily replaceable or difficult to recycle – such as straws, coffee cups and stirrers - should be rapidly removed from circulation. Exceptions should be made for plastics that are essential for health and well-being, such as straws for people with disabilities.

  • As soon as we can: end pollution from hard-to-replace plastic

Shockingly, a third of plastic pollution comes from the wear and tear of car tyres, synthetic clothes and paints, but with government support the UK’s world-leading researchers and designers can plot a course to ending pollution from these too.

  • Aim for near zero plastics pollution by 2042

This would be in line with the government’s 25-Year Environment Plan which committed to eliminate ‘avoidable’ plastic by 2042, and should cover all significant sources of plastics pollution.

Resources to support visiting your MP

Here’s a one stop shop for resources to support your visit to your MP to ask them to support the Plastic Pollution Action Plan. Please write to edward.burke@foe.co.uk with any queries.

  1. A 4 sider briefing to give to your MP – this is an in-depth explanation of why we need a Plastic Pollution Action Plan and what it should look like

  2. 1 page summary of the Action Plan for your MP – a quicker and more accessible document which quickly communicates what’s in the Action Plan

  3. A prop your MP can pose with in a photo to show their support (see picture below). We’ve printed 35 A2 copies of the prop for you to order on this form (see the tick box above the ‘submit your order’ button). You can also download and print it here.

  4. Template press release to get your MP’s support publicly visible into the local papers.

From beach and urban cleans to community film screenings, Friends of the Earth local groups have been taking action to end plastic pollution all over the UK. 

Groups have been getting creative on stalls with activities including ‘guess which objects contain plastic’ and hanging plastic items on washing lines (see the section on ideas to bring your stall to life for more creative stalls ideas). 

Camden Friends of the Earth have been working with Camden Market and set up their own online petition to get it to ditch plastic take-away containers. St Albans Friends of the Earth hosted a plastic-free picnic, and the Leicester group created a giant plastic monster in their local shopping centre. 

Find out more about what our local groups have been up to on our blog.

We’re keen to know all the brilliant things our local groups are doing in their communities. If you’re campaigning on plastic, please let us know what you’ve been up to using this Google sheet and email any photos to edward.burke@foe.co.uk or add them to the Facebook group.

Did you know that up to 95% of the plastic litter in our oceans actually comes from our towns, cities and villages, making its way to the sea through rivers, drains and waterways? And it’s not just people deliberately littering – rubbish put in the bin or placed out for recycling can still find its way to the ocean, often as a result of overflowing bins or high winds. 

The positive news is that this means we can all make a difference to the issue of ocean plastic pollution  – whether we live close to a beach, or not. By picking up a plastic bottle or sweet wrapper where you live and making sure it gets recycled or disposed of correctly, you are directly helping to protect marine life from the threat of plastic pollution. Sadly, 56% of whale and dolphin species have already been observed ingesting plastic, which can have fatal consequences - only a few weeks ago a pilot whale in Thailand died as a result of eating 80 plastic bags it had mistaken for food.

Our friends at Whale and Dolphin Conservation are offering free #UrbanBeachClean kits to Friends of the Earth supporters and local groups interested in running a litter pick to help tackle ocean plastic pollution. Email rosie.cotgreave@foe.co.uk to order your free pack.
 

To contact the Plastics team at Friends of the Earth, email plastics@foe.co.uk.

To stay in touch with other Friends of the Earth local groups working on our campaign, join our Facebook group.

Tell us what you're up to

Please keep us up to date with all the brilliant things you’re doing by filling in this Google Sheet whenever you do something plastic related.

It really helps us keep track of all the amazing work that local groups are doing on the campaign -  and it lets you see what other groups are doing to spark ideas for your group.

You can order resources, including stickers, leaflets and posters to support your campaigning with our order form.

You can also download our petition to keep plastic out of the oceans for your stalls and events.

You can find lots more information about plastic-free living and our campaign on our website.

Take action online

Take the Plastic Free Friday pledge and join thousands of people across the UK giving up plastic for one day a week.
Sign our petition to pile the pressure on the government keep our oceans plastic free.

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