PLASTIC: Let stores foot the bill

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Let’s face it, as a nation we are rubbish at recycling, especially plastic.

We currently recycle only 30 per cent of household waste, which rates us as one of the worst in Europe.

We are brilliant at littering, however, where we create more litter than almost every other European country.

For once, the politicians appear to be singing from the same song sheet. Or are they?

Look closely and they talk about all plastic being recyclable in the future, which is effectively rubbish. Why? Because we only recycle 30 per cent. That means that 70 per cent will still go into landfill, litter or our oceans. It’s not rocket science.

Still, not to worry as the politicians have organised consultations on plastic pollution. I read that they have had 1,600 “consultations” in recent years, which have achieved largely nothing, zilch, nada, diddly-squat.

Lots of talk and no action, no change there then.

The latest proposal is to have machines where you can put in your empty bottle or can and receive in exchange a token to be used when you next shop.

You would think retailers, especially supermarkets, would welcome this kind of initiative. Not so. Their immediate response is to ask who will pay for the machines because they cannot possibly afford the cost.

The problem is not just plastic bottles and tin cans, it is the packaging used by retailers.

Liquids and some foods have to be sold in a bottle or a can, we all accept that. But what about fruit, vegetables, bread, meat, cheese and all the other staples? It is now almost impossible to buy these without plastic or cellophane packaging.

I, personally, want to buy the produce, not the packaging, but that has become largely impossible.

It is not in any way scientific, but recently I paid particular attention to what was on sale and where.

Almost everything in our local supermarket is wrapped in plastic. Some, like fruit, veg, meat, pies and fish, is sold in a plastic tray, which is then wrapped in plastic. Most do not indicate what part of the packaging, if any, can be recycled.

The result of a week’s shopping was a pedal bin full of wrappers and packaging destined for the local landfill, where it will last for 500 years or more.

By contrast, the local bakers will use paper bags and cardboard boxes, if asked. The butcher used small plastic bags, but says health and safety rules insist he cannot use paper, which I can understand. Maybe I could ask him to use my own containers, but they are plastic.

My answer is simple, but drastic. Tell the retailers that if they continue to use unnecessary plastic wrapping and packaging, they will be made to foot the bill for its collection and recycling.

It would also help those retailers who produce little or no plastic waste or litter.

Why should I have to pay through taxes and rates to collect and process litter from supermarkets and fast food retailers?

How many of us have had a walk in the country spoilt by empty beer cans, soft drinks bottles, plastic cups, take-away cartons, etc, littering the path?

Our local pubs are often described as the ‘heart of the community’, but we are told that they are closing down at the rate of 19 every week.

My local recycles everything it possibly can and, apart from empty crisp packets, produces very little that can become litter or landfill.

My guess is that what a pub has to pay in alcohol licences, duty, business rates and taxes represents a considerable proportion of its annual income. By comparison, those same costs would impact a supermarket to a much lesser degree.

We have to foot the bill for cleaning up all the unwanted, unnecessary rubbish and litter created by the supermarkets and fast food retailers, yet we do nothing to help our local pubs that provide food and drink, but create hardly any litter whatsoever.

Perhaps we ought to do more to help our pubs, which often provide significant numbers of jobs, especially in rural areas, and attract visitors, which help the local economy.

It would be really sad if more close because I cannot imagine anyone calling a supermarket or pizza take-away “the heart of the community.”

Mel Shaw,

Archbold Cottages,

Wooler