We must continue to lead the fight against plastic waste in Wales. As one of the biggest issues facing our planet, and one that has captured the public demand for change, it’s vital that we step up.
We have made a good start. Wales has been praised for having the third-highest recycling rates in the world, and was the first UK nation to introduce charges on single-use plastic shopping bags in 2011. In the last 20 years, we have gone from a nation recycling less than 5% of our waste to recycling 63% of local authority municipal waste. 95% of municipal waste from Wales is processed in the UK, mostly in Wales, which is a huge achievement.
However, problems still remain to be solved if the Welsh Government is to meet its zero waste nation by 2050 and prevent the destructive effects of plastics on wildlife. It is estimated that one in every two insects in the Taff river system already contains microplastics, and there have been issues of Welsh waste being found on the other side of the world, something the Welsh Government is dealing with swiftly. Plastic pollution needs urgent action.
As a member of the cross-party Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, we recently submitted a report looking into the effects of microplastic and plastic pollution, which the Welsh Government responded to on Tuesday. Hannah Blythyn AM , Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government outlined what the Welsh Government is hoping to achieve over the coming months and years:
- Continue with commitments to ban/ restrict the sale of commonly littered single-use items like straws and cotton buds
- Make producers more responsible for their packaging at the end of its life
- Deposit Return Schemes which would increase the collection of high-quality materials
- Work with the UK Government to tax plastic packaging with under 30% of recycled content
- Drive for a circular economy, ensuring we use less plastic, with the help of a £6.5m Circular Economy Investment Fund to help encourage businesses to innovate and find ways to reduce plastic waste
- Continue to drive for the use of refillable drinks containers by making sure drinking water is accessible and free
The Welsh Government has already showed that it is committed to facing up to environmental concerns such as climate change head on. We were the first parliament in the world to declare a Climate Emergency on the 1st of May earlier this year, and I welcomed the First Minister’s decision to axe the plans for an M4 relief road which would further issues of air pollution and cause untold damage to local habitats. We need to make sure plastic pollution is the next issue we lead the way on.