Willie Mackenzie: Holyrood surpassing Westminster in plastics fight

Plastic is ending up in oceans around the world, killing and injuring wildlife
Plastic is ending up in oceans around the world, killing and injuring wildlife
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The Scottish Government is moving ahead of Westminster in the fight against plastic pollution, writes Greenpeace campaigner Willie Mackenzie.

The Prime Minister this week made a major speech on the environment, outlining her ‘25-year plan’, which, amongst other things, committed her to tackling the scourge of plastic pollution.

A fine sentiment – and happening on the same week that legislation finally outlawed plastic microbeads in cosmetics, and Michael Gove posed for a photo on the steps of 10 Downing Street with a spiffy reusable coffee cup and matching tie, it certainly seemed like something was in the air.

This is an issue that people care massively about, but one which for too long has almost entirely been burdened on the unwitting consumer and taxpayer. Meanwhile those who produce, design, market and profit from plastic packaging are simply not held responsible – as anyone who has ever pondered over those packaging labels that say “not currently recycled” will agree.

But something has changed.

Blue Planet II certainly helped, but a growing awareness of plastic in places it simply shouldn’t be – from the stomachs of dead whales, to the deepest ocean trenches – has shocked us all. Greenpeace’s own journey around Scotland’s remote coasts last year showed a shocking amount of plastic littering distant beaches.

So, while it’s great to see politicians stepping up to pledge to tackle plastic pollution, what really matters is them actually doing something about it.

This is where there’s a stark difference between Westminster and Holyrood this week.

As Theresa May was pledging to deal with pointless plastics by 2042, Scottish environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced that Scotland would ban plastic-stemmed cotton buds. That’s on top of the Scottish Government’s previous announcement that they will introduce a deposit-return scheme for drinks containers including plastic bottles.

Legislation matters. We know this from changes we saw almost immediately after the plastic carrier bag charge was introduced. Good legislation levels the playing field. It focuses minds and changes behaviour better than anything else.

Plastic pollution needs real solutions.

The problem isn’t going away quickly or easily.

And with a truckload of plastic waste entering the world’s oceans every minute, urgent action is needed now.

So hats off to the Scottish Government, leading the way on effective measures to actually make a difference, and to the many campaigners who have helped them realise it’s important. Here’s hoping that Westminster catches up soon, as we really don’t have any time to waste.

Willie Mackenzie is Scottish-based ocean expert for Greenpeace.

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