AS Secretary of State for Work and pensions I attended the G7 summit in Japan last month to represent British interests, talk to my counterparts about economic and employment issues, and discuss major international issues such as global security and climate change, writes MP Mel Stride.
One of the outcomes from the summit was a commitment to end plastic pollution by 2040.
This pledge was a strong statement of intent from seven of the most advanced democracies in the world ahead of an important United Nations meeting in Paris, which is taking place as I write this article.
This meeting, with representatives from nearly 200 countries, aims to establish the framework for a global treaty to reverse the continued rise in plastic waste.
It is hoped the treaty will then be ratified and adopted by the majority of countries in the world by the end of 2024.
Among the measures up for discussion is a global ban on single-use plastics and taxes on plastic production that incentivise manufacturers to reduce the amount they produce or to look at alternative materials.
When the UK introduced a ‘Sugar Tax’ in 2018 critics said that it would do nothing to improve the nation’s health and that it would simply hit the pockets of low-income families.
But what actually happened was that more than 90% of manufacturers cut the sugar content of their drinks to avoid the tax. Within months, the average UK family was consuming 10% less sugar from soft drinks and within 19 months there was an 8% drop in obesity among Year 6 girls. In the same way, plastic manufacturers might be excepted to change their methods if they face taxes at the production stage.
Why is this such an important problem? Global plastics production has increased by 80% since 2000 and the equivalent of one bin lorry of plastic is dumped into our ocean every minute.
This pollutes our rivers and oceans, causes real damage to marine life, and impacts ecosystems in ways we cannot fully understand.
The amount of plastic produced globally is expected to triple again by 2060 unless drastic action is taken and Greenhouse gas emissions from the lifecycle of these plastics are expected to more than double over the same period.
Before I became an MP I used to visit local schools and talk to pupils about the environment with my One Tonne Green Challenge – an initiative I founded to educate young people about their carbon footprint and to encourage recycling. Recycling plastics still has an important role to play (particularly in countries where plastic recycling is virtually non-existent), but recycling alone will not be enough.
We simply need to produce far less plastic in the first place, and what is produced should have a long life.
► More from Mel at www.melstridemp.com