TV presenters Chris Packham and Liz Bonnin have joined forces with businesses and campaigners to urge G7 leaders to put plastic pollution on the agenda when they meet next month.
In an open letter, more than 30 business leaders, environmental campaigners, peers and MPs called on the UK Government to include a global treaty on plastics for discussion at the G7 summit of leading economies in Cornwall in June.
They warn that 300 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced every year, while less than 10% of all plastic has ever been recycled and it has been found in our water, food and the air people breathe.
The letter warns the pandemic has sent the world “deeper into this crisis”, highlighting that one billion items of personal protective equipment (PPE) were handed out on just two months in the UK alone.
“Globally three million face masks are thrown away every minute – amounting to 129 billion every month – mostly disposable, mostly plastic,” the letter led by campaign group A Plastic Planet said.
It also said more than 70 governments including the UK had expressed support for a treaty to tackle the problem and warned the plastic crisis would never be overcome “without a globally consistent response”.
Signatories to the letter include senior figures at Nestle UK and Ireland, Aldi, Iceland Foods and the Co-operative Group, and leaders of campaign groups including Surfers Against Sewage, the Ocean Foundation and Fidra.
Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, said: “One man’s trash is another man’s problem. Only a globally aligned and binding strategy will stop the forecasted increase in plastic production and the inevitable pollution.
“With governments around the world keen to join forces to stop this toxic material from polluting our children’s future, now is the time to step up the pace. We need to accelerate real action.
“The members involved in the G7 summit have shown they can drive powerful change, as seen with the Paris Climate Agreement, and they can do the same for plastic pollution.
“If the Government wants to be a world leader in tackling plastic, it must put a global plastics treaty on the agenda,” she urged.
The treaty would need to be prescriptive and legally binding, should set out a consistent approach to reporting plastic production and waste, and include measures to ban “pernicious” uses of this indestructible material, she said.
The call comes as a £1 million fund is launched to help incentivise investment in infrastructure to recycle flexible plastic such as bags, wrappers, films, pouches, packets and sachets, to boost currently low levels of recycling this material.
The scheme is a collaboration between five of the UK’s largest branded manufacturers, Mars UK, Mondelez International, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever, and is being led by producer compliance scheme Ecosurety, with support from environmental charity Hubbub.
Retailers Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have signed up to support the initiative by hosting collection points for flexible plastic in selected stores and other major retailers are set to follow suit, to make recycling facilities for these plastics more accessible to consumers, the scheme’s backers said.
The fund will guarantee a minimum value of £100 a tonne of recycled product to incentivise recyclers to process flexible plastic, with at least 80% of the plastics collected being recycled in the UK, rising to 100% by 2023.
Robbie Staniforth, head of innovation and policy at Ecosurety, said: “Historically the UK recycling system has not provided enough motivation to recycle flexible plastics.
“By creating a sustainable market for this material, longer term improvements can be made to ensure the flexible plastic that remains necessary for packaging is reliably recycled and eventually contributes to a circular economy, thereby tackling plastic pollution.”
An Environment Department (Defra) spokesperson said: “Plastic pollution is a global problem and the UK is at the forefront of tackling the issue – introducing world-leading legislation to help reduce the amount of plastic polluting our natural environment.
“Through our landmark Environment Bill, we will create deposit return schemes for drinks containers, encourage more recyclable packaging through extended producer responsibility, ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, and make it easier to place charges on single-use plastic items.
“The UK supports starting negotiations on a new global agreement to urgently tackle the scourge of plastic pollution in the ocean.”