Last night Wokingham Borough Council voted unanimously to eliminate all non-essential single-use plastics from the Council’s operations and estate.
Since being elected I have championed the elimination of these plastic items. Despite all the benefits they have given the world, they have also become one of the biggest environmental challenges that our planet has ever seen.
Plastics have saved countless lives across the world, and have enabled the growth of clean energy and revolutionised the way food is stored and preserved. But their low cost and convenience have resulted in them become disposable rather than reused. Our oceans have become dumping grounds and our food chain has been infiltrated. What was once a scientific miracle has, unfortunately, become an environmental nightmare.
Compared to other councils our recycling rates for plastics are high, but we are clearly better having not used the single-use plastics in the first place.
I accept that there are situations where single-use plastics are the best solution to an issue. For example, there are many within our population who have hidden or visible disabilities and who can only eat or drink with the aid of a flexible plastic straw.
I also know that many will say “What about the blue bags?” While single-use these actually act to reduce our residual waste and increase our recycling rates. The introduction of food waste recycling has also served to reduce the number of blue bags that we use as a borough each year. There is a need for exemptions in cases such as these and I called on the officers of Wokingham Borough Council to use their discretion in these situations.
There are however many, many more instances however where single-use plastics, such as water bottles, food containers and disposable packaging and wrappers can be eliminated and this motion calls on the council officers and the council’s suppliers, to reduce and eliminate such items from use, and from its supply chain and all council-controlled properties as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
Even without this motion, huge amounts of progress has already been made. Single-use coffee cups have been replaced with biodegradable paper cups or china mugs. The Shute End cafe uses biodegradable packaging rather than plastics in serving pre-prepared food. Additional recycling points have been added to council-owned properties. The council has launched an internal Green Team to promote further sustainability and encourage behaviour change in its staff. Across our schools, we have moved away from cling film, plastic cups, straws, bottles, food packaging and plastic pots.
This motion will serve as a statement of intent to our suppliers, partners and staff to maintain this focus on eliminating non-essential single-use plastics from all our business and ways of working. It will ensure that single-use plastics will be phased out of our supply chains by enforcing controls on our procurement process. It will also serve as proof to all of the businesses across our Borough that if we can do it so can they.
To quote Erik Solheim Executive Director of the U.N.Climate Programme, “Plastic isn’t the problem. It’s what we do with it. And that means the onus is on us to be far smarter in how we use this miracle material.”
I am proud that my campaign to eliminate non-essential single-use plastics from the Council’s operations received unanimous support from all members of all parties. It stands to show just how important this issue is and how essential it is that Wokingham Borough Council leads by example.
There have to be some exceptions, such as in the case of the health and well being for our residents, but otherwise, from now on there let there be no excuse for single-use.