When the plastic era first emerged it was celebrated as a marvel of science: our ingenuity had made something that created something virtually indestructible that does not decay.
We now dispose of it by discarding thousands of tonnes of it into our environment every year, dumping the material on our land, in our seas and across our oceans.
We have all seen the traumatic scenes on the likes of BBC’s Blue Planet programme, plastic rapidly building up in oases of nature and life, killing our planet.
Each year we produce over 300 million tonnes of plastic. That is equivalent to the weight of the world’s entire population. Of this, over 12 million tonnes of such plastic is estimated to end up in our seas and oceans, entangling or becoming ingested by marine life. We also know that plastic microparticles are found in drinking water across the planet.
And despite awareness rising, the situation is deteriorating further. Plastic production is set to skyrocket over the next 10 years and pieces of plastic in the ocean will soon outnumber fish.
Major supermarkets in the UK alone create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste – far in excess of annual household plastic waste.
There is an urgent need for change.
This is a critical issue. That’s why I have been urging the Government to work with supermarkets to reduce their plastic waste.
One supermarket is leading the charge. Iceland announced in January that it will eliminate plastic packaging from all its own brand products by the end of 2023 – an important step in tackling the problem of excessive plastic packaging and preventing further damage to our environment. Waitrose has also announced it will no longer use black plastic for its meat, fish, fruit and vegetables by the end of this year, with all Waitrose free of black plastic – which cannot be recycled in the UK – by the end of 2019.
But it is not enough. That is why last month I wrote a letter, signed by more than 200 Members of Parliament from seven political parties, to the heads of major supermarkets, calling on them to tackle the scourge of plastic waste.
We asked Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda, Waitrose, Aldi, Lidl, Budgens and Marks & Spencer if they too would commit to eliminating such packaging by 2023, if not before.
There is a moral imperative to tackle this issue for future generations and the wildlife upon which our clean environment depends.
The work of the Environmental Audit Committee in Parliament, as well as NGOs such as Greenpeace, Marine Conservation Society and Friends of the Earth has been invaluable in pushing the issue up the agenda.
But we must continue to push for an effective and sustainable solution, because the very qualities that made plastic such a wonder when first invented are now the very reasons why swift and decisive action is needed now.