72: SPECIAL: Fixing the Plastic Problem
Hello you're listening to the National Trust. August twenty twenty marks are one hundred twenty fifth anniversary and a special year of activity. This year where romping APO- efforts to protect our natural world one major threat default time is plastics. So this week wish airing an episode of couldn't didn't file live twenty nineteen a podcast series. We launched this January. This podcast brings you the best interviews and debates that took place in the the National Trust Theater. At last year's live event over four days the National Trust hosted talks covering topics from food and farming to the benefits of nature it to our well-being in this episode country file presented. Tom Heap and a panel of experts. Discuss how we could fix the plastic problem. If if you enjoy this you can find the rest of the series on all podcast directories all National Trust Dot Org dot. UK forward slash podcasts. This is country Fi. Live twenty nine hundred nine the podcast. That lets you relive some of the best moments from the talks and presentations. That happened in the national. Trust theater at this year's BBC country file live event Ab- Lenin Palace in this series. You'll hear from the likes of Ray. mears is on the best time to get involved with nature from J Gill on his transition from fame to farming and from Timothy Bentinck Aka eight David Archer. WHO gives us a peek behind the scenes of the arches in this episode? We join controversial presented. Tom Heap in conversation. Sation with Richard Walker managing director of Iceland Roz Savage and environmental advocate multi Dorey author and founder of two minute beach. Clean and Adam Reed External Affairs director APP suicides global experts in water and waste. They discuss the problem of plastics and some of the solutions. That may help us deal with walk. Walk has really changed. How do you think we'd come in the last eighteen months so just a couple of minutes? Please thanks I think we've come a long way but many of you might argue argue that you can't see the change and I think that's because systemic change system change takes time. We've got public awareness higher than ever before we've got big businesses like huge commitments to change. We've got national programs. Plastic pacts looking at implementing massive sky or change in the supply employ chain to raise recycled contain and to simplify packaging. So that your lives are easier in terms of what to do with it. And how to deal with it we've impact labeling thing trying to make your life easier and then you've got ourselves investing in infrastructure to separate segregate. I'm recycle that material butts older. That sykes time I an effort to get it right. Moving too fast puts the whole system at risk if the supply Chinese out of sync so we spend a Lotta time talking. We'd be business about their plan. Changes and we spend time talking to government about what's coming in terms of producer responsibility deposit return scheme so huge consultations tycoons over the last twelve months massive response from the public and Industry Soins of very positive. And I'm very optimistic. That we're on the right path off but it will take a year or two to get older that embedded change to work and saw can cut in when you say positive. Does that mean you think we will see and you want to see a deposit returns came on plastic. Do I want to say I. I want to see less plastic and I want to see more recycling if D. R. S. Deposit Return Turn is the right answer then we would support it but we also feel that extended producer responsibility with big brands taking ultimate responsibility for the entire yeah. Life cycle of their products and packaging is the first step so I prefer producer responsibility consumers making the right choices businesses making king at work and asks helping secure that system if we then have leakage or we were still suffering litter from plastics than. Drs's absolutely the next a lot to dig into that a little bit more but or bringing other people to the show. I'm really the same question. What has changed? What if you think it's inadequate what now needs needs to change? Public perception has completely changed just in the last year alone. Even in the Collins Dictionary words single use became a new word God for the year because people understand not only just what the impacts of single use but the role that it has on our environment and society. I always say there are so many different things that need to change. I sometimes think that politics waits for people to change and they say what people say what comes first people politics six business media or even finance and investment to me. It's all those things and I think that when we're looking at the public perception of plastic I have friends I. I went to school with that used to laugh at me because I bring my reusable bottle with me consistently and I just just this year. There's something like that plastics issue. It's scary isn't it. Like blood the finally people are starting to catch up and this is a conversation that we have been having a lot and I think that what does need to change is our understanding of where plastics are. It's insidious in our society. I actually went plastic free for a week because I thought it would mean that I was able to change slots those institutionalized habits. You've got rid of your your computer. The plastic rounded screened in so much of our stuff actually living plastic arctic freeze virtually impossible shows how insidious is that for these chairs. Here is a bad thing. When I say it's insidious so I I discovered? I'm a massive T fan. I can't begin to tell you. How many cups of tea I had could you imagine my shock when I discovered this plastic in teabags and When you when they come I had noticed that you do still get that that they don't come properly and the idea that as we're drinking cup city that there was plastic in that I think a lot of people I didn't realize until it was brought public attention and we've seen T. companies trying to change that but the idea that such small things that we do has plastic at the heart of it but just to be clear? Is Your feeling that it's really we do need to focus on single use plastic. That's the issue or you against plastic in all its forms. I think that plastic and all of obviously plastics even single use plastics to us have their function in some places place. It's like the jess for example. You can't talk about such a vital role in some aspects but isn't just single I use. It's plastics are used that still end up in our oceans still end up and our food cycles. What the the reason? The system is broken is because plastics are the cheapest and easiest options on too many occasions and even when we're seeing the fossil fuel industry subsidized by government that also is through the oil industry that we reduce our plastics. And it means that there's subsidy going towards something that's detrimental to the environment and what we need and I think that what we all want in this room is for the greenest option to be the cheapest and easiest option not the option. That's environmentally destructive. Ed Wood that would happen. Yeah rose what what do you think what what have you noticed actual actual changes in the last two years. And what would you like to change from the British perspective. We can be really proud of ourselves. That inspired by David Attenborough in his team. It's been absolutely brilliant. See everybody from the Queen to the houses of parliament to the supermarkets to the pubs. Really getting on board with they do not a single used plastics unfortunately on the global level. Plastic production is still going up. It went up three percent last year and a slightly sad statistic that I will then put a more positive spin on. Is that North America and Europe between between US only account for five percent of mismanage plastic. So we're fortunate in that we have good rubbish collection action systems so that actually. It's mostly not our plastic that is escaping into the environment but so clearly the countries like China other Asian countries in India needs to an awful lot to get their act together. But there's no room for complacency for us this either because actually in my book plastic that goes into landfill is still not sustainable in the sense that it is going to be to the detriment. A future generations that they've got these non-biodegradable Milton he still less so the still. There's a lot to celebrate but there's also also still a long way to go. Plus you walk strap but it's not a good use of plastic I've this watch has crossed several oceans and banned material. It is so I'm afraid I had a lot of plastic on my because it's brilliantly useful waterproof stuff off too much of a good thing because in many respects it is a good thing I think. Any of us a demonizing plastic. We're just saying that it must not be allowed to escape from what is hopefully increasingly becoming a circular economy escaping from there into the natural who'll wells Richard feeling this every day in the retail business. The pressures but I wonder if you could cut through that and so are there some things would you think just you know what he's actually changing for you and you'll seeing around you a what. He's not yeah so we made our commitment was who was the first in the world In January last year and most people were skeptical and didn't weren't quite sure how we were going to get there and to be honest. I was one of them because I would much rather set a big bold ambition. Make sure that all of our twenty five thousand staff motivated and driven in that direction rather than wait around and wait for someone else to impose. Is it in terms of what's going on. I am fully optimistic. We are going to get there. And but in terms of what's going on quite a lot in store we've removed as of last December one and a half thousand tons from things like eggplants and some of our bags products some of our ready meal trays. And since then we've removed more but if you against against shops it's still a wall of plastic and it frustrates the hell out of me. So obviously I want to move quicker. We will if we can but of course the challenges are so great. Right is a mountain that we have to climb and we're right at the forefront in terms of innovating with new technologies new are in D.. And all of this has to be a uh net neutral cost to our customers because we're going to pass on a penny to them. I didn't see why should also it would be commercial suicide in the UK grocery this remark it to do so and a question of the risk of not insulting the audience here but but a question about the market. Generally we hear era a lot. About how the general public is turning. Its back on plastic. Do you think that's actually true. AB- apart from the sort of Five or ten percent who really environmentally switched on most living in Bristol Oxford Cambridge and as a mass I mean. I'm just wondering if the reality check not just necessarily in your supermarket and the others. The guys are saying. Actually people don't care that much what do you think. We're only going to change the world if we make the scalable and we make scalable bull by democratizing environmentalism environmentalism moment. Very middle class. Thing here we are in the National Trust. And you know it's easy for as you said five percent of society to virtual signal to each other. We saw five million customers a week and we serve all of the under deprived communities in the UK. Do you think really give if monkeys they do of course they do. They have a different hierarchy of needs. You know they might have twenty five pounds a week to spend on food. That's it and their parents sir. Engaged in nature as much as anyone else but there this is where climate and environmental justice is wrapped up in social justice as well and those things are intellect our customers really really care about it but they can't afford to pay a penny more to do so and I'm in the same question if you lie but also you seeing any change. I mean you do walk on the you the beaches and see what's actually washing up. You're not just as a I don't see any change out there with yes I think so I mean so that there are two sides to it. I think there's a response response to it. which is the? It's getting very easy for corporate to call us up and say they want to go on a beach clean right which is great but but they still have to change in the back room and that's one of the responses. So there's a bonding I think we're GONNA WE'RE GONNA take a beach king. Can you come and help us. It's like yeah okay. I'll tell you if you cut your single use plastic and that's a very difficult question for him to answer you know but but the other thing is this lots of facebook shares and I guess if I you know I get sent stuff about plastic every day and I think people then think it's off their conscience and actually I think there's a massive response to it but actually the reality might not be happening. I mean it's easier for me to get books written about plastic now coming to you right now on it too but then then the reality is I got a picture of this book. Could everybody read what it says on the front. No more plastic it gets wrapped in plastic by resellers so sent he wrote and blessed with that so so you know so there. Is this this this part of it. which is I think we are kind of sometimes sleepwalking into into oblivion with this that there is so ingrained in our society that you know I was in a bookshop? I'm talking to somebody about why they were wrapping up books in plastic and they say well it's because people people want their stuff fresh and new and they don't want it to be thumbed on the shelves and also I mean the other thing that's the knee jerk. Reaction is the idea of new plastics and new waste streams. Yeah so so we we go. We hate those coffee cups because plastic and yeah. Hey guys you can have a guilt free coffee by having a compatible. WHOA COFFEE Cup? What they don't tell you? Is that that coffee. Cup can only be compounded by experts under certain conditions. So you go away feeling like you've if you're being very virtuous the simple answer is to have a cup a real cup that you refill and actually there's the lack of information I think is is really telling so the National Trust. Let's hold them up because they changed their magazine rap to a possible. We'll wrap home combustible rap and they put instructions on it how to deal with it now. I got in degradable plastic bag the other day with no instructions directions degradable oxo degradable photo degradable biodegradable. And we don't know I want to put up with that. You just wanted to quickly on something Richard. Yeah I'm in His Testament Testament to the fact that we're not there yet because more plastic bottles were so this year in two thousand and nineteen then last year keeping enough just something I was going to put about. I asked for some figures. Just I know someone in Cambridge Area Waste Management and I asked him for the tonnage figures that are coming through their place and Cambridge's bridges. I said is the kind of place and lots of environmentals which don't people every year every month year on year between twenty eight and twenty twenty seventeen eighteen and twenty one thousand nine hundred ninety three the last year it had gone up slightly over the going up on their always talk. But that's why it's so incumbent on retailers on business on industry to come up with solutions nations alternatives that are as cheap as convenient and have the same functionality as well and failing every day but we also have some successes. The Tunnel Edgy. We're utilizing I just wanted to this issue of bio degradate ability and composting. Because it's a very slippery term this isn't it. Can you just just help the audience out here with what is good. And what is not when it comes to words like compostable and biodegradable combustible on on packaging. Means you can't composed in your compost Abraham it needs to go into industrial composter. Which means you need a collection system? That's designed to take it to an investment compost. And how would you know if you have that in your area by Oscar account so and most of you want a boy degradable on the other hand has to go to an anaerobic digestion. And again you have to authority worries more Food Than Organic Weiss whereas my garden wise guy now most of the body writable an Oak sidebar degradable and combustible the packaging in this country is not ending up in any form of recycling facility. Because it can't be treated in a resort community it may end up in a landfill. Suicide is being burned for energy recovery currently because we haven't got the systems in place to keep it separate so it does go with your food and garden waste. I just sites that are deemed suitable for that material. So in your view. Is it better to have a recyclable regular plastic bottle cool then something that says abide degradable compostable would you. Can you handle too but probably recyclable. Plastic better currently we would much prefer quality. Recycling of simple plastic polymer that we can put through all facilities and put back to market. And so I just a Dj that when you talk about simple plastic milk doc milk most of water bottle happy dies by are easy to recycle if we can capture them. The problem is when you litter them. Maybe not you guys and goes but when they get littered. They don't get captured in a recycling system. That's the problem. But they're easy to handle and we'd much rather have them. The no complicated could could be recycled. Could be composted. Could be digested if we get. It writes the future may be oxo biodegradable or combustible. But we're a long way from there now. Deposits Straight on. Should they be on on the plastic plastic deposit schemes in the US of been very successful. There's I think if you put something like a five cent deposit on the bottle then. The return rates are twenty seven. If it's a quarter on a bottle then in a return rates go up to nine hundred and ninety five percent so that seems like a really good place to start also pick you up on what was being said about limiting the number of different kinds kinds of plastics. Willing to be correct on this by think in Japan have nine core kinds of plastics. That and that's it. You can't have other plastics. So you know you've got flexible when you've got a rigid one you've got for nine different purposes but it makes it an awful lot easier. It's does it say one thing and you have been labelled one to nine so but I'm sure someone else on the panel appropriate knows more about this idea. She says looking at him and one for nine they have a simpler system. Certainly Okay Amelia. We have a snap election around the corner and there's a little change in the electorate and you get made environment secretary. What would you be? Now what would you be putting in place by way of policy to encourage recycling. I think that's really important that we think of this system change and not just about recycling itself because is when we do recycle was still producing these materials. There's still an energy cost to that. If there hadn't been plastic in the first place we would be thinking very differently about how we built our society. I think it's interesting that there are some local councils. Considering things like a turn scheme those of us that have been music festivals that reducing their plastic. You'll know that you small. Oh deposit on a cup you buy beer or whatever your wine you get once you've finished it you return the cup either for a new glass of beer or for your money money back and there are some people who have been thinking about trialing how we do this in the local area. So you're not just creating ways not just creating recycling because the last figure I heard it was it was thinking like nine percents of plastics recycled and although nine in which edged case we need to have a huge. We're putting the pressure on people to know their recycling and to do it in places like Newport in south Wales swear. They've pushed some the highest recycling rates. They realized that they've hit a point where they simply don't know how they can continue to engage. People into recycling have moved to the point where they're now talking not talking about fines because for people who don't recycle because they can't see how they can make it easier how they can encourage more. How are they can put more education out there because there's a limit when we keep producing this as a limits what we can achieve by recycling alone and so I think I personally absolutely? I think that there should be a ban on all non-essential single use plastics. Because I think that we I don't I'm there are there are countries that are taking single use plastics. Far More seriously than we are and I think that we can. We're already seeing watering tens. We're seeing other ways of actually containing are prodigies. Oh Jeez we're seeing the effects that they didn't actually but Johnson and Johnson are trying to step up to the mark on this the week after and the Blue Planet and talking about how actually lots there could be project produced by with using with things like the cotton wool buds and things. Like not when we there's a really interesting book called zero notes and the concept of that is that if we say to people reduce your energy consumption by fifty percents reduce your plastic used by fifty percent then people will just pick the low hanging fruit and say just take the easy options whereas if you challenge people two zero you have the fundamental system change that means that businesses and the environment can change. So I'm not saying overnight a ban on single use but making sure that this is all an investment. Make sure we get there. There's really bourdon analysis discussion about plastic but there are lots of people and environmental world are concerned that the sort of moral panic about plastic mastic is marking the possibly the more important problem of climate change. And I take this bottle as an example so I was given even this to die as lovely. It's a IT'S A. It's an aluminium drinks bottle. Aluminium is one of the most energy intensive things things to produce and because of the anti plastic fervor people are giving these out kind of virtue signaling things at just before you come in rich do you. I think that is a danger that our obsession with plastic is damaging the fight against climate change. Because this stuff is also really energy intensive to make Mike and really heavy to transport a well made and recycled plastic bottle would be more climate-friendly than that is interesting because when you look at the rise in plastic also falls quite in line with the rise in consumerism as well and there's definitely a role in consumerism of I mean essentially a one the stuff I've worked on his own clothing and the idea that we produce so many close the average lifetime of an item of clothing that I mean this contains pilot. This contains plastic thanks. Be It'll be releasing micro-plastics. Every time I put it into the world it is it is very important but do you think there is the plastics in the right place. We can I think we need to use the more sensibly speaking to an organic farmer this week about his plastic usage and he's plastic out of his his his his workings and he sends out now on the Internet and so since meet out into online and he said he looks backwards to look forward to a better future so actually the simple solution to to the problem of bottled water and the way is to get advertisers and actually if we start yes virtue signal myself with the bottle Oh look yeah so we've all got the but the fact is that if it's the it's this question of end of life and complete life cycle and we've he fairly early which still has made us doubt and we kind of knew it that some of the recycling streams aren't going the way we want them to and and actually if you don't know what's going to happen to to avoid the plastics pushback his great if only because is completely galvanized a whole generation of people and there is a Zeitgeist that that is reassessing row with the environments. Of course there are so many at the time of this climate crisis there are so many environmental ills there are many problems from deforestation through to climate change and I think ultimately humanity is very binary. It's not about no plastic or all plastic. We just need to reassess our relationship with this material and look at more sensibly and I say that as the retailer who is getting out of plastic. But we're doing that as a protest to show that it is possible it can be done. An alternative materials are available yes. Aluminium is by far the most polluting. If it's virgin aluminium if it's recycled is the best and yes glasses heavier to transport but people forget that plastic comes from a finite fossilized carbon. That's it's been fractured and is created from petrochemical. There's nothing worse for the environment than that fact. So you've got to look at the full life cycle of all of these materials roles. You mentioned earlier that unlawful or the source of plastic and our oceans is China Southeast Asia. Places like that where we send a lot of plastic to be recycled. Is that something that you know. We won't do you think about the fact that we are sending recycling these other countries. Well I think picks up on what you were saying earlier about clearly when we ship containers full of plastic to China for recycling than the carbon footprint of that is enormous and I. I'm sure many new audience have heard of the three hours of refuse reuse. Recycle in descending reading order prevert refusal to talk not reduce most people will reduce refuse as in. Don't have it in the first place. Yes say say no to the Goodie bag of things that you don't need just we live in an economy that's always trying to get us to embrace more more stuff more consumption and and it's not particularly make any happier in our lives and so there is definitely less is more and that's really the philosophy that we need to embrace lady over there. Please spent a holiday in Scotland and the arable farms up there. Cover their fields plastic relive next to a farm where they wrap the bells of silage empathic. Not Once but many times I think they are possibly the greatest criminal when it comes to one. I use plastic. That never gets used most. Is your view. Well we gotTA stop. We did a controversial about foam plastic Out a year ago can't quite remember and the place that was recycling. It in one place is taking it in and recycling and the UK. Although I think it may have gone overseas. He's one of the issues. Is these recyclable. I'm going to get you to come in on. This out of it is recyclable. One of the problems is it's dirty and the cleaning of it makes it then expensive to recycle recycled. But you're absolutely right is recyclable. But the way we would receive it makes it so closely to they handle that it far outweighs the value Ali with the material in the first place which is why we come back to consumption and consumer choice if the choice was not because it's the right material then paid a premium for the treatment of that material in its entire life cycle. Not just for the time that you have as a as a farmer. That's where the systemic change is needed in the UK isn't that a classic is deposit deposit scheme could work in effect. The farmers pay a little bit of it has to be taken back absolutely and then you have an HR system built around that was designed minds to handle that type of material. I have no problem with that whatsoever. So I was speaking to There's a study at Coventry University which is going on at the moment and they're they're studying being the plastic mulch versus biodegradable mulches versus. We did organic and no weeding. And actually and they don't have to be clear that multi-race oil salt weeds grow so the plastic that lines the fields is goes on top obviously and stop the weeds growing and it provides a mini greenhouse in enables was watering to be more more efficient. So actually I was looking at it from the point of view of okay. Well if you're choosing organic a lot of organic farmers used plastic mulch because because actually it's better for growth so this study is actually looking at. Can we replace it with biodegradable stuff. That doesn't have to be cleaned. Doesn't have to go to recycling. And then can can literally be ploughed back into the land and what she told me which was quite interesting. Was that actually the yield and the the the insect problems that they had on because it was where they had weeded and they had most bio-diversity they had the problems with pesticides with pests. Didn't have to use pesticides besides weren't using them so I know that they are looking into this. And it's kind of if you go back to old fashioned ways make rather than silage if you can and so route. I think we just have to do that thing of going. Well let's just try and do without how can we. Is there an alternative. Yeah thank you very much. Yes yes Ben Webster from the times we had the government celebrating today a ninety percent reduction in plastic bags. But what they actually didn't say was that that was search five single use thin bags and there's actually an enormous increase in so-called bags for life which cost nine P. Typically and there's now a billion of those so they actually contain four times as much plastic and people treating them as single use but it encountered the government's figures so it's completely silent went on them while patting itself on the back over its five p charge and its success and we'll have the environment secretary few minutes in this very room. Maybe talking about anyway. Is it time to actually get rid of plastic bags altogether or actually charge quite a bit for them so that you don't keep buying them and chucking them away. It's actually interested in a People who have lived in a plastic age because I do think I'm thirty four and I remember when toilet paper. Potatoes came and paper bags and a changing to Spencer soap and it seemed like a big thing and I think it's interesting. How over time? We've become so used something as a standard and the norm when actually only a few of it was quite recently that it wasn't and I do think that this plastic bag issue we're not gonNA save the world. I hate it if I'm breaking it to anyone but we're not going to save the world with a paper paper Straw. Were not going to save the world. Just three plastic bags and this is why it needs such a fundamental shift in how we think about plastics and their role in our society and again the plastic facts was something that has been introduced. Where where it's now an issue convenience rather than issue of how much it costs questions? I should say the bags for life. The thick bags should they be almost prohibitively expensive or not on sale in supermarkets view. I think that there should be. They should be on sale in the form that they're in at the moment don't want to dominate. Sorry but we we're the first retailer. We started this two weeks ago. A completely plastic bag free shop in Hackney go take a look and actually the results have been amazing. It's one of the few trials we've done. That actually works. Plastic bag usage has not changed. And we've switched to all of its. It's a paper where we've offered a paper alternative and kept the plastics that has not worked so it is possible I think to transition I want to roll it out. Doesn't this also show rigid. Did you know for all we public opinion. I mean whilst the gentleman's got issues with how collateral damage of the plastic bag tax it was it shows regulation nation is remarkably effective putting a financial margin the most we could afford five p but the plastic basket through the floor percents very effective so noisy see percent reduction plastic bags into the five p charge came in. That's great for the Environment Charity and for our prophets because we're spending ten billion quit era in plastic bags give away for free however then is correct. We talked about this before they bags for life that they have replaced which I forgot to net off their announcement this morning. Actually three times. James is heavy and therefore we are evidence of the fact that all we've done is increased plastics circulation by getting rid of five P. carrier backs unintended into consequence. Thank you very much. I'm afraid we're GONNA have to bring it to an end but to Richard Walker Martin. Adam Reed rose savage and immediately. Mac thank you very very much. Do you think the audience. I'm please hands together to thank the Powell. Thanks for listening to this extract from the many talks debates. That happened in the national. Trust theater at BBC Country File Live Twenty nineteen to learn more about this Sunda audio programs from the National Trust go to national trust dot org dot UK slash podcasts and to purchase your ticket Foale BBC Company Fire Live. Twenty Twenty Goto countrified live dot com. This is a national trust. PODCAST recorded at BBC. ABC Country Far Live Twenty nineteen. And if you've enjoyed this special episode look out for the rest of the country. Live podcast on your favorite podcast APP. All at National Trust Dot Org Dot Doc. UK forward slash podcasts and to get your ticket for BBC Country Fi live twenty twenty two country fi alive dot com. Next time time we'll be back to usual national trust podcast Chechiel when we explore how objects from the past contribute precious memories for people living with dementia in check.