Just before Christmas, fishermen caught an 80lb porbeagle shark a few miles off Land’s End, which was slowly being strangled by plastic strapping which had wrapped itself around it and tightened as the animal grew. The fisherman removed the plastic and freed the shark, which hopefully will survive (see The Cornishman from 28th December). Every day our marine life is threatened in this way by plastic pollution of some kind.
At my grand-daughter’s after school club, a group of Year 6 pupils were discussing plastic pollution with their teacher. Someone pointed out that their school milk (yes, some primary schools do still provide school milk!) was delivered in un-recyclable, individually portioned tetra packs, each with its own plastic straw.
Following their discussion, the eight pupils from the after-school club wrote letters to the CEO of the Lincoln based company that organizes deliveries of milk to schools across England and Wales.
The following week, the school’s milk supply was delivered in the same tetrapacks, but without the straws.
The week after that, the milk was delivered in larger, recyclable plastic bottles which could be decanted into cups. That week the delivery was also accompanied by a letter to the children from the CEO of the company concerned, explaining that he had himself been concerned about plastic pollution for some time, and that their letters had given him the push he needed to change the packaging not only for their small rural primary school, but also for other schools across England and Wales.
This is a very big win for a very small school – and some very young activists. It epitomises the working of EPR, or Extended Producer Responsibility, whereby companies who make a mess take responsibility, either voluntarily or through legislation, for cleaning it up. Some of the most polluting companies, such as Coca-Cola, have been the most resistant to EPR, and will often spend sums on dodging the issues which would solve them if spent properly. But sometimes, as this story illustrates, consumers have only to show that they care to make a huge difference.
A worldwide campaign by Greenpeace and other organisations has pushed Coca-Cola towards developing a new sustainability plan, which is under discussion at this moment. The company is in a position to set standards for the whole industry and, with continued pressure from people like us, they might just do it.
So instead of just being annoyed if your local restaurant uses plastic straws, or you find polystyrene piled up outside your local fast food shop – pay them a visit or write them a letter and see what happens.
Click here if you’d like to add your name to the Greenpeace petition calling on Coca-Cola to reduce the amount of single-use plastic they produce – you may find yourself pushing at an open door.
Perhaps you’d like to watch this video, entitled ‘Can One Straw Change the World?’ by Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff. Rachel is the Executive Director of US-based 5 Gyres Institute, the ocean conservation non-profit that first discovered plastic microbeads in 2012 and campaigned for a successful federal ban in 2015.
– Pippa Stilwell
CFWI Climate Ambassador