Can Wales Become The First Refill Nation?
City To Sea's Chief Executive Rebecca Burgess talks us through how Wales could become a world leader in banning single use plastics.
Wed 4 Nov 2020
If the Welsh Government are to achieve their commitment to become a zero-waste country by 2050 and the world’s first Refill Nation, they need to dramatically expand their current plans, which looks to phase out the use of nine unnecessary, highly littered, single-use plastics in Wales, says Rebecca Burgess, Chief Executive at City to Sea.
She explains how Wales can set its sights higher and become a leader in reducing the use of single use plastic across the world.
This is a great opportunity for Wales to once again be a world leader in the fight against plastic pollution, as it was with the carrier bag charge.
For over two years, the Welsh Government has supported Refill Cymru, a City to Sea campaign, that stops the need to buy pointless plastic water bottles.
But we know the issue is far bigger than water bottles alone.
There are nine items listed in the EU Single Use Plastics Directive, and addressing these should be the bare minimum, not an aspiration. These are:
- cotton bud sticks
- cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, and chopsticks)
- beverage stirrers
- plates (including paper plates with plastic lining)
- sticks for balloons
- expanded polystyrene food containers, beverage containers and cups
- oxo-degradable plastics
Recent research from Wrap Cymru estimates that 400,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated in Wales each year, of which around 67% is packaging waste.
We can live without many of these single use plastics that end up on beaches and in the oceans, destroying our marine life and natural environment.
Reuse rather than recycle
We just need to look at other countries who are implementing bans on single use plastic to know that change is possible.
The French Circular Economy Bill includes the banning of lids for cups, packaging for fruits and vegetables, plastic sachets, and plastic confetti.
It also states hotels, restaurants, and cafes offering eat-in services, will need to use reusable packaging by 2023.
At City to Sea all our campaigns focus on the legal-enshrined waste hierarchy – promoting prevention and reuse above recycling.
We’re therefore encouraged to see the Wales Circular Economy Strategy reflect the waste hierarchy and emphasise avoiding waste as much as possible.
The Welsh Government need to continue to ensure prevention and reuse is prioritised, to avoid businesses simply switching from one problematic material to another.
Could this be an opportunity for Wales to develop clear guidance on the waste hierarchy and what this means in practice for businesses? This is something desperately needed across the devolved nations.
"In 2018 we launched a petition asking the UK Government to introduce a visible tax on throwaway plastic at the point of sale. Over 242,000 UK citizens signed it, yet it was ignored in the 2018 autumn budget"
A plan for single use cups and plastic bottles
We’ve also been reassured by the extensive consultation underway and urge the Welsh Government to listen to their citizens.
In 2018 we launched a petition asking the UK Government to introduce a visible tax on throwaway plastic at the point of sale.
Over 242,000 UK citizens signed it, yet it was ignored in the 2018 autumn budget.
We therefore encourage the Welsh Government to at the very least introduce a levy on disposable cups, with a medium-term aim of banning them, as the Irish government is proposing in their National Waste Policy.
Welsh Government should also establish a deposit return scheme for drinks containers including PET plastic bottles by 1 July 2022, with a 90% collection target by 2025 as the Scottish Government are currently putting in place.
Progress against these targets should be mandatory and reported annually.
Refillable water stations
As our Refill Cymru partnership continues to grow, we believe water drinking fountains should become compulsory instalments in new build locations where there are planned play parks and social green areas, as well as in sports and recreation grounds and transport hubs.
Refill Stations should also become mandatory at marathons and festivals, building on the success of the Refill Stations at Cardiff Half Marathon and at the Royal Welsh Showground.
Reuse not single use
Lastly, we’d encourage the Welsh Government to take a lead role in encouraging businesses to adopt reuse systems and infrastructure, through offering financial incentives.
Alongside this, the Government should positively promote reuse wherever possible.
Sadly, the arrival of COVID-19 has led to many businesses refusing reusable cups, despite over 100 scientists confirming that they’re perfectly safe to use provided they are cleaned properly.
Through our #ContactlessCoffee campaign, we know businesses want to do the right thing, but without clear guidance fear will always override facts.
By doing this, I’m confident the Welsh Government can achieve their commitment to become a zero-waste country by 2050 and be the world’s first Refill Nation.
What do you think? Do you live in Wales? Should the rest of the UK follow suit? Let us know in the comments below!