Prime Minister Theresa May has recently pledged to eliminate all unnecessary plastic waste in the UK by 2042. In her plan, Prime Minister May aims to extend the charge of 5 pence for plastic carrier bags to all retailers in England, encourage government funding for plastics innovation, and help developing nations tackle pollution and reduce plastic waste. Perhaps the most popular criticism is that “throw-away” culture, which loosely defined is exactly what it sounds like, should not be an issue that takes excessive time to tackle. Considering the issue of throw-away culture extends to countries besides the UK, particularly the US, it is a shock and discomfort to many green groups that larger initiatives are not being taken at a rapid pace.
Beyond this fair critique, there is a greater issue at hand; the lack of specificity in the proposed plans to reduce “unnecessary plastic waste.” What qualifies plastic waste as “unnecessary?” It is crucial that what is deemed “unnecessary plastic waste” is defined early on, so that the Prime Minister can be held accountable. It is no shock that many well-intended environmental initiatives fall through, especially when these initiatives are vague and sound more like promises than they do plans.
Maybe the UK could learn a thing or two from the European Union, which has also declared war on plastic waste. Vice-president of the commission Frans Timmermans spoke to several European publications about his intent to eradicate throw-away items such as drinking straws, “lively coloured” bottles that do not degrade, coffee cups, lids and stirrers, cutlery and takeaway packaging. Obviously, Timmermans is significantly more specific than Prime Minister Theresa May in his commitment to sustainable living. It is the combination of his specificity and efforts to spread his message across various publications that help to convince and reassure green groups that the EU is taking matters more seriously. It also helps that the EU has earmarked 310 million British Pounds for research into new more easily degradable and recyclable plastic. This is truly putting your money where your mouth is.
The issue with Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans are that they seem to be all talk, and while there are certainly questions and criticisms that can be aimed at the European Union’s sustainability efforts, the EU undoubtedly harbors the go-getter mentality that environmental activists need. This ultimately goes to show that actions speak louder than words or “vows,” especially when the state of the environment is at stake. Instead of allowing environmental proposals to simply remain pledges, humanity needs to take action and build momentum. There is no route that will ensure success in any walk of life, but it is nevertheless essential to be relentless and intentional in environmental efforts.