Suffolk environmental group plots action on plastic plague
- Credit: John Grant
Greenprint Forum dedicates 2018 as its #plasticaction year
Two key messages leapt out from an inspirational Suffolk meeting that put the world’s plastic plague sharply in focus.
One was the depressing notion of just how pervasive plastic is - to the point that it is not only choking the oceans, it is even being routinely ingested in micro-forms by humans. The other was the more uplifting concept that each and every consumer on the planet can do their little bit to stem the tide and reduce the unimaginably vast levels that currently tarnish the environment.
With plastic pollution now being a widely recognised global mega-problem that is receiving mainstream media attention at last, it was no surprise that there was an impressive attendance for Greenprint Forum’s special plastics event at East Suffolk House, Melton.
The forum, an innovative voluntary environmental network facilitated by Suffolk Coastal and Waveney district councils, has dedicated 2018 as its “#plasticaction” year.
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Forum chairman Andrew Cassy said: “Our vision is for the people of east Suffolk to work together to improve our quality of life and living standards, while reducing our environmental impact. We have a wide range of complimentary goals but have decided to focus on taking action on plastic this year because there is a significant and widely recognised need to act now, both here in east Suffolk and across the world.
“Taking action on plastic now is one small but important step in a long improvement journey. Our aim is to work to ensure the use of plastics is tightly controlled and everyone takes responsibility to reduce the impact of their activities on the natural environment.”
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The forum attracted more than 100 people to its Melton meeting, which was entitled Plastics: Know Your Place in the Community.
Speakers at the event came from widely varied backgrounds but were united by a determination to take action - and to inspire others to do so.
Some of the statistics presented at the meeting illustrated the immense scale of the plastic plague.
Dawn Goodhall, a senior strategic waste planning officer with the Environment Agency, for example, said that during 2014 2.2 million tonnes of plastic packaging were produced in the UK but only 842,000 tonnes were recycled. Without “fundamental re-design and innovation” 30% of plastic packaging will never be re-used or recycled, she said.
However, there were innovations taking place, such as embedding electronics into plastic cups that tracked their use and enabled rewards to be offered to their users, replacements for plastic walkways, garden furniture and fencing now being used, and even the production of cutlery that was edible.
Changing people’s behaviour was key. She told the meeting: “The whole plastics agenda is moving forward not because of the industry but because of people’s voices - voices such as yours - and that is what will change the future.”
Further evidence of the scale of the scourge of plastics was presented in abundance. Craig Renton, of the Suffolk Waste Partnership, said 11,300 tonnes of Suffolk household plastics were collected and sorted in the last year. Amid a wealth of statistics and information about recycling given by Mr Renton, an eye-catching detail stood out - about 8,000 tonnes of disposable nappies went into bins in Suffolk each year, with each child using about 2,000 such nappies in its time as a baby, whereas it would use only 25 re-usable nappies.
One of the meeting’s most impassioned presentations came from Kate Osborne, who runs the Suffolk beachcombing and marine conservation awareness initiative Beach Bonkers. She highlighted a plastic Hovis cracker packet she had recently found on Bawdsey beach - it was dated December 19, 1980, and so had been in the environment for more than 37 years.
“Imagine there’s a fish with its mouth wide open down your sink, down your loo or your shower - that’s where your plastics will end up, inside that fish.”
She added: “It’s a massive problem but with consumer pressure we can win.”
The event was organised by Suffolk Coastal District Council with main sponsorship from the East Suffolk Partnership and a contribution from the University of Suffolk as part of its Sustainable Community outreach programme.
For more information on the Greenprint Forum and its events, visit www.eastsuffolk.gov.uk/environment/east-suffolk-greenpring-forum