Although the Prime Minister, Theresa May, launched her 25 year environment plan in January this year, Parliament itself is still responsible for using a large amount of single use plastic items. The plan sets out targets for improving and preserving the environment and includes the aim to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. According to environmental groups, the Government is failing to lead by example in this war against plastic waste.
According to a Freedom of Information request submitted by Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), in excess of one million disposable cups were used last year in Parliament. In 2017, more than 2 million single use plastic items altogether were bought by the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Coffee cups were the most purchased item, followed by plastic cutlery, which accounted for another 398,000 items. 200,584 soft drink bottles were purchased, 193,050 of them by the House of Commons.
Coffee cups, along with other items such as plastic straws, plastic cutlery, condiment sachets and disposable water bottles are still being widely used. Although some of these plastic items are suitable for plastic recycling, coffee cups and other items that include different materials pose more problems. Only a small proportion of easily recyclable items such as disposable water bottles are actually sent for plastic recycling.
Members of the environmental group, Surfers Against Sewage, built a boat from plastic bottles that was displayed outside Parliament in September 2017, to draw attention to the amount of plastic in the oceans. The group says that the number of plastic products being used could be reduced by the introduction of a levy on disposable plastics and has urged Members of Parliament to supply their own reusable cups to reduce waste as part of their Plastic Free Parliament campaign.
The group’s CEO, Hugo Tagholm, has said that Parliament should refuse to use avoidable plastics, thus setting an example as a plastic free Parliament. He said that our elected politicians could pass new legislation that would decouple society from addiction to single use plastics that were avoidable. Surfers Against Sewage has also written to the Speaker of the House of Commons, asking Parliament to take urgent action regarding plastic waste.
According to a spokesperson, the House of Commons is committed to the reduction of waste, including plastic, and has a mixed recycling scheme aimed at maximising the amount of waste that is recycled. The catering and retail service in the House of Lords has already taken steps towards reducing the use of disposable plastic items, giving preference to products from renewable sources and offering a 10p discount to those who use their own cups.
Individual Members of Parliament have added their voices to the call to reduce plastic waste. Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East, said that it was time that Parliament not only got its own house in order, but for it to lead the campaign against throwaway plastic. Steve Double, Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay, said that there are many steps that consumers could take towards reducing the amount of single-use plastic used.