Single use plastics on the Wirral – are they any closer to being banned?

Back in December 2017, Wirral Council hoped to be the first local authority to ban single use plastics in Merseyside. Have the council pursued this goal, and if so, where are they now? Mersey Mash reporter, Danielle Wilson investigates.

The world has become a lot more environmentally aware over the past year, with multiple countries battling against the rising amount of pollution in our oceans.

Sir David Attenborough’s Emmy Award winning show, Blue Planet II, brought to light the devastation that plastic pollution causes.

Sir David Attenborough
Sir David Attenborough’s TV show Blue Planet made many people aware of the devastation litter causes to wildlife

Single use plastics are not only poisoning oceans and other waterways; they are also poisoning food chains and entire ecosystems.

Over 10 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean every year. Plastics litters beaches across the world, causing problems for not only locals, but animals that reside and grow in these habitats.

A unique rescue operation saves two sea turtles
US Coastguard had to rescue two Oliver Ridley Sea Turtles stuck in plastic waste. Image by: Coast Guard Compass

Although, it is not only plastic bags, cutlery and cups that cause damage and deaths to millions of marine animals every year. Micro-plastics, tiny pieces of plastic under 5mm wide, are eaten by fish and other marine life. So much so, that people who eat seafood can ingest 11,000 pieces of micro-plastic a year.

Thomas Green, marine biologist at Blue Planet Aquarium said: “Over 100 million marine animals are killed every year from eating plastic, and this is destroying the food chain.

“We need to be more aware of the plastics that we use on a daily basis, and recycle these instead of littering and putting them in the normal bin.”

“People should aim to find alternatives to cut single use plastics out of everyday life.”

The UK’s first step to decrease plastic pollution was in October 2015, when the government introduced a 5p charge to plastic bags. Disposable plastic bags are up to 80% of plastic pollution which enter waterways. Only 1 to 3% of plastic bags are recycled.

It takes people 20 minutes to drink a takeaway coffee, but 450 years for that disposable cup to decompose. People are just starting to take initiative to cut down their use of SUPS, and Wirral Council is just one of many to be doing this.

Cllr Phillip Brightmore proposed the idea of the Wirral becoming single use plastic free back in 2017.

This notice of motion also recommended the Wirral Cabinet Member for Environment to write to the Conservative Minister for Environment to request them to add the reduction to SUP to the future national Waste Management Strategy.

Wirral Cllr Phillip Brightmore
Cllr Phillip Brightmore

Reducing the amount of SUPs people use is extremely important on a national scale.

“We need to be more aware of the plastics that we use on a daily basis, and recycle these instead of littering and putting them in the normal bin.” – Thomas Green, Marine Biologist

Wirral Council said back in July 2018: “On both a European and national level, the problem of SUP is high on the agenda, therefore garnering high political support for the issue. Wirral people are concerned about the environment and the effect pollution is having on issues such as global warming.

“People are worried about single use throwaway plastic and the effect it is now having across the globe and particularly in the oceans.

“The UK Government has announced it is considering a ban on common SUP items including plastic straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. It is understood that such proposals will go to consultation later this year.”

Not only are the council aware of the damage single use plastics cause. Portland Primary School in Birkenhead tackled their use of SUPs by completely banning plastic straws, and also milk cartons.

The council took nearly a year to plan the policy that is now in place.

In November, Wirral Council updated their plans of the ‘Single Use Plastic Free Wirral Policy’. The council want to create a strategy to put in place across the peninsula, to phase-out SUPs in within two years.

The Attractive Local Environment Steering Group are reviewing the progress of the policy. The group aim to “create an attractive local environment for Wirral residents and visitors.”

They want to inform the public of the reasons to cut out the use single use plastics, and encourage them to use alternatives instead of the pollutants.

The council aim to work with local businesses, helping them to cut down on the use of the possible pollutants.

The policy includes plans to encourage large institutions such as the NHS to become aware of the problems single use plastics cause, and therefore try to get them to decrease their use of them.

A sculpture made from used plastic bottles representing a tree has been unveiled in Birkenhead Park. This has been done to make people conscious of how much plastic is thrown away. The sculpture is made from 35 small ecobricks, bricks made from recycled plastic and an estimated 170 plastic bottles as the branches of the tree.

The council have confirmed that they are wanting to create ecobrick benches, having already 100 ecobricks. These ecobricks, weighing nearly 37kg contain 300 bottles and nearly 50kg of other single use plastics.

Yet, it may be impossible to be completely free of single use plastic. Speaking with a spokesperson from an international business who create sustainable plastics, she said: “It’s so important to reduce your use of single use plastic, but you have to be realistic that it’s pretty much impossible to cut them out completely.

“The biggest thing is to stop polluting the earth with plastics and coming up with alternatives for them where we can. Especially in terms of single use plastic.

“I also think it’s almost pointless doing ocean clean ups until we turn off the tap of plastic constantly flowing into the sea; because we’re pretty much cleaning up as more constantly goes in.

Approximately 5,000 pieces of plastic waste are found per mile on our beaches in the UK. Image by: Dolovis

“Over 90% of ocean debris is plastic. Another big issue most people overlook is the micro plastics that come out of clothes made from polyester every time you wash them. They directly put microplastics in the ocean. So it’s important to buy clothes made of natural fibres.”

Not only have the Council created a policy to encourage the public to reduce their SUP use; Mayor of Wirral, Cllr Geoffrey Watt launched a scheme across the peninsula this month.

Refill Wirral already has 32 places, including Birkenhead Park signed up. The scheme, which has an app allowing people to see where they are able to fill their water bottles up, has been rolled out nationwide. This may cut plastic bottle use by tens of millions annually.

Cllr Anita Leech, who is Cabinet Member for Environment, said: “Last year we launched our single use plastic policy and a commitment to support Refill was one of our key priorities.

“Tackling plastic waste is a huge task, partnerships like this is where we can really start to make a difference and get everyone involved in reducing the amount of plastic we use and throw away.”

Hopefully over the next couple of months, Refill Wirral scheme and the Single Use Plastics Free Wirral policy will both take. Although there is little to no way to completely rid the planet of plastics; reducing our use of them is one way to allow ecosystems to thrive once more.

Will the steps that the Wirral Council are taking to eradicate single use plastics encourage Liverpool City Council to follow suit?

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