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A hollow ring to Theresa May’s pledge on plastics | Letters

Theresa May launching the government's 25-year environment plan
Theresa May launching the government’s 25-year environment plan. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Ian Paul (Letters, 12 January), referring to plastics recycling, asks: “Surely we should urge government and private industry to build and develop plants to deal with the problem now, before we are knee-deep in bottles?” He is right, but we had started on this more than a decade ago, with world-leading recycling technology investment in plastic bottle recycling at Closed Loop in Dagenham, part funded by the government’s Wrap (Waste and Resources Action Programme) organisation, which produced the material to include recycled content in plastic milk bottles.

This was a world first, establishing the use of recycled material in food-grade packaging. It foundered when the voluntary agreement between the dairies, brands, retailers and bottle-makers to use recycled content collapsed when the oil price fell and virgin material became much cheaper. Government failed to intervene to save the plant and the investment, for the sake of a price differential representing 0.1p on the cost of a two-litre milk bottle. All those responsible blamed each other, and the nation lost significant recycling capacity.

Now the government has set out its 25-year environment plan and heads into a new resources and waste strategy (Campaign groups give lukewarm backing to May’s green strategy, 12 January), the lessons of this debacle must be learned. A regulatory framework that supports industry and encourages investment is needed, and could include mandatory recycled content for some plastic products, investments in research and development, and enhanced tax credits to support manufacturing investment in the UK and reduce our dependency on febrile export markets.

There could also be mandatory design guidelines to eliminate polymer mixes in packaging that make recycling close to impossible, bans on some single-use plastic products and reforms to producer responsibility that incentivise the use of recycled material.

Michael Gove wishes to be “bold and radical” in this policy area. He must at the very least embrace a fresh injection of reasonable regulation that supports investment and helps to build stable markets for plastics re-manufactured here and not in China as starting points if we are to tackle the plastic waste “scourge” that the prime minister spoke about this week. Relying on yet more voluntary agreements will simply not suffice.
Ray Georgeson
Chief executive, Resource Association 

• In the early 70s my husband and I were founder members of Friends of the Earth. Every Saturday morning a group of us returned all our week’s packaging to the local supermarket in Bromsgrove, to make a visible point about over-packaging to both the supermarket and the Saturday shoppers.

Now, 47 years later, our prime minister has the audacity to boast about the government’s green policies. I am so angry I want to cry. She should be apologising for what governments have not done all these years, resulting in the dreadful situation we now have regarding plastic pollution. She should be apologising for her government’s dragging its feet and previously exempting many businesses from charging for plastic bags – not boasting about what only amounts to catching up with everyone else (Scotland, Wales and many countries did not make these exemptions for small businesses). And as for the 25 years she gives the government to achieve her plastic policies, that is laughable. If we have not done away with plastic or replaced it with plant material way before then, it will be far too late for much of the life on this planet.
Maureen Evershed
Dorridge, West Midlands

• The focus on single-use plastic in the environment strategy overlooks the issue of ghost gear – lost and abandoned fishing equipment, which represents 10% of all the plastic waste in the ocean and causes immense suffering to marine animals caught in it. If the government is serious about reducing the impact of plastic on the marine environment, its strategy should address this highly destructive form of plastic pollution.
Stephen Sibbald
UK country director, World Animal Protection

• Regarding plastic-lined takeaway cups, I suspect the craze for drinks on the go is a sort of statement that a person is busy and important, in common with the constant fiddling with mobile phones and clutching plastic water bottles. May I suggest we revert to using the good old vacuum flask, or even wait until we get to work (as we used to do) before we have a tea or coffee – drunk from a reusable mug, of course.
Peter Hames
Northam, Devon

• Single new year resolution: no non-biodegradable cups. Actioned yesterday. Great Western Railway buffet attendant initially unwilling to pour my coffee into my orange plastic cup, citing health and safety/company rules etc. Realising I would not budge, he finally gave in. Now for Waitrose. Fellow Guardian readers, please do the same.
Ros Clayton
York

• Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

This article titled "A hollow ring to Theresa May’s pledge on plastics" was written by Letters, for The Guardian on Friday 12 January 2018 06.25pm

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