This month the Government announced that it would create a £61.4 million fund to tackle the rise of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. The fund is split between research and action to curb plastic pollution in developing countries to improving waste management on a national and city level.
This is a result of a global campaign to reduce the dangerous levels of plastic waste. Players from all sectors have fed into this campaign. From Greenpeace right through to Coca Cola – there is a commitment to ending use of single-use plastics.
Reducing plastic use was a key part of the government’s 25 year environmental plan set out in January 2018. In this plan, May committed to cutting out unnecessary plastic packaging in supermarkets and reducing the use of single-use plastic. This month, the UK hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government and have formed the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance.
On top of the £61.4 million fund to tackle plastic pollution, the UK Government are also putting plastics on the agenda for their UK Aid Match Fund (link), promising to match pound for pound donations to tackle plastic waste up to £5 million.
While these government plans may have always been on the agenda, they have certainly been heightened by the huge public outcry around plastic waste.
We’re going to take a look at the movement that steadily gained momentum over the last few years that have led to this commitment by the government to take action:
- The plastic bag tax
Remember when we used to get plastic bags for free? That was only two years ago. Yet in those two years, the use of these plastic bags dropped by 85%. This tax was introduced after a mixture of in-depth research and a mass of campaigners revealed that billions of plastic bags were being used in England, littering streets, spoiling countrysides and ending up in our seas and coastlines. This was the first big win around plastics for campaigners, resulting in clear government legislation that.
This campaign won because of deep collaboration across all sectors. From governments to councils to campaigners to researchers, everybody chipped into building an argument against single-use plastic, and transformed the hearts and minds of the public.
The movement formed around the core values of sustainability and justice. There is a shared experience between movement members of witnessing the slow destruction of their surroundings. And there is a shared purpose and sense of responsibility that, in Attenbrough’s words himself “the future of humanity now depends on us”. Based on these core areas, a commitment to meaningful action was built.
In 2017 we saw a huge wave of campaigners build momentum around microbeads. Microbeads in beauty products ended up polluting our oceans. There was a global campaign around banning microbeads in products. New levels of campaigning was emerging. Collaborations between charities globally were taking place, and people from across the world were feeding into the campaign. From petitions on sites like Greenpeace and 38 Degrees, to one-to-one meetings with MPs and huge awareness raising, there was a point in 2017 when microbeads were all anyone could talk about. This level of deep and purposeful engagement, of maintaining momentum and of retaining the core values of protecting our planet, led to the banning of microbeads in the UK. This was a global movement journey:
- Personal plastic footprint
There’s another level of the movement to end plastic waste that has helped tap into everyone’s consciousness, and that’s the personal element. Reducing plastic waste isn’t something that we can only wait for legislation to do – it’s something that we can do in our everyday life. Viral campaigns like #PlasticFreeChallenge and the 30 Day Plastic Challenge encourage people to consider how much plastic they typically use in a month by challenging them to give up single-use plastics for a month. Campaigns like these tap into the ‘rewards and incentives’ aspect of the movement journey. People feel like they can add their own bit to the campaign, and they gain the reward of partaking in a global action and, in doing so, add their voice and action to a global movement.
- Good old David Attenborough (and …the Daily Mail)
The campaign against plastic waste was compounded by the addition of voices of institutions. BBC backed David Attenborough was vocal about his concerns of plastic pollution in the BBC Series Blue Planet II. Here, Attenborough famously said:
“For years we thought the oceans were so vast and the inhabitants so infinitely numerous that nothing we could do could have an effect upon them. But now we know that was wrong…It is now clear our actions are having a significant impact on the world’s oceans. [They] are under threat now as never before in human history. Many people believe the oceans have reached a crisis point…Surely we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity, and indeed all life on Earth, now depends on us.”
On top of this, Theresa May herself praised the Daily Mail for its hard hitting campaign against plastics Break the Plastic Habit. Institution backed campaigns were able to communicate to whole subsections of society that may not feel swayed by charity campaigns. Here, we can see that employing a varied form of communication styles will allow for a movement to gather momentum by seeping into every area of society.
This is just a small foray into the mass of campaigns that have formed the movement around plastic waste. This level of cross collaborative, cross sector, cross tactic and merging of personal and political, is what has made the campaign against plastic waste sustainable.
We are excited to see a movement that has worked so well across so many areas of society and globally! We hope this new government fund will work towards ending plastic waste, but we know there’s still a long way to go.
If you want to join the movement, here are some areas you can look into: