Philip Law has addressed the issue of plastics in the marine environment on several occasions recently.
Philip Law, Director-General of the British Plastics Federation, highlights the growing issue of marine litter, including actions he has recently taken to fight the corner of plastics at both a national and political level.
Plastics litter in the seas is a growing issue. The volume of noise is increasing, and, as the commentary invariably refers to plastics in a disparaging way, even though it’s fundamentally not our fault, it isn't good news for the reputation of plastics materials, products and the industry itself. Even worse, there are some influential figures that are lining up to say, “something must be done”. Though dwarfed by the problems of Greece, which dominated discussions at the G7 meeting at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria on 7th-8th June, the world's top economies did find time to discuss litter in the marine environment.
Aware it was on the agenda, I had written to David Cameron in advance alerting him to our own industry actions and concerns. He did write back afterwards saying he was aware of the industry's efforts, particularly ‘Operation Clean Sweep’, but added: “At the summit, the G7 agreed that litter in the marine environment, particularly plastics, poses a global challenge that directly affects marine and coastal life, ecosystems, and potentially human health. The G7 therefore committed to a range of actions and solutions designed to combat marine litter, including addressing land and sea based sources, removal actions and education, research and outreach.”
We haven't seen the detail yet, but it is reassuring to hear that there is recognition that this is a very large and complex problem with many stakeholders. But the key is changing human behaviour. If plastics weren’t thrown into the sea other materials certainly would be, and indeed are. It just so happens that plastics are the more visible. Plastics don't jump into the sea of their own volition they happen to be there because of very careless actions taken by people. Public education is key. The ‘Keep Britain Tidy Group’ has had varying fortunes since its inception in 1954, but now is the time it needs to be most pro-active. I do hope the government is giving it an appropriate level of support, but I fear that it will have been an early victim of austerity. The lack of public information programmes on UK television is quite stark compared to the sixties and seventies, but yet they seem to me to be pretty central to public support for broadcasting.
Among those condemning plastics in the sea is the Prince of Wales, whom I met on July 22nd at an event organised by Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) on Fistral Beach, Newquay, Cornwall. His attendance was prompted by the fact he is Duke of Cornwall where SAS are based, and is also President of the MCS. In March he gave a speech in Washington about the dumping of plastics in the sea. He helpfully said, “stimulating a second life for plastics is essential, they are too valuable to be thrown away.”
However, a more controversial initiative has recently been launched at Selfridges, which has banned the sale of mineral water packed in plastic bottles aiming to encourage consumers to use refillable bottles replenished at public water fountains in their store. I was invited to debate this move at a large gathering in Selfridges on the evening of July 23rd. Pitched against Selfridges Deputy Chairman, Alannah Weston, Environmentalist, Jonathan Porritt, and Designer, Sophie Thomas, I was able to make the case for plastics bottles and the need to focus on behavioural change rather than product bans. I said that whilst the UK is actually one of the few locations in the world where you can rely on the quality of the public water supply, in Asia, Latin America and Africa there is a critical dependence on clean water supplied in plastic bottles.