Interview: Plastic rap
Miriam Turner, Co-Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth, talks to Stephen Tomkins
Friends of the Earth’s first ever campaign action was to return thousands of empty bottles to the London headquarters of Cadbury Schweppes in 1971, to promote reuse. Though, since then, it has campaigned on environmental issues from whales to genetically modified food and from fracking to the Newbury bypass, changing our throwing away habits has remained at the centre of the organisation’s work. Meanwhile, the rest of us have increasingly realised how crucial that change is. As Mission Council, the United Reformed Church’s executive body, has called on churches to reduce single-use plastic, Reform talked to Friends of the Earth’s Miriam Turner about their plastics campaign.
Many of us are aware that plastics are a big problem. But what is the problem, exactly?
The main problem is a huge and growing waste problem. There’s literally mountains of waste getting into our environment. But, critically, it’s also a climate change problem. The amount of plastic going into the environment is just staggering. We’re throwing away millions of tons of plastic a year, and huge amounts of that is finding its way into the ocean. I worked in southeast Asia and I walked across beaches in very remote, relatively poor communities there, literally covered in plastic. This is in places that are biodiversity hotspots and where people are most reliant on the ocean for livelihood and food. Friends of the Earth did a study with Bangor University which discovered tiny bits of plastic in the most iconic and remote and beautiful places, you know, even the seemingly crystal clear waters of the Lake District. Plastic left in the environment breaks down into tiny pieces, is consumed by animals, goes up the food chain and leaves this cocktail of harmful chemicals. It’s getting into our food, the air we breathe, the water supplies.
That plastic that you were seeing in Asia, where’s that coming from?
The majority of waste comes from places that have the weakest recycling infrastructure, but then it can bleed out into the marine environment. Then it can move and then it’s everyone’s problem.
So the waste aspect is clear. Where does climate change come into it?
Plastic production accounts for about 6% of global oil consumption. That’s about the same as aviation. And, by 2050, plastic production is projected to triple, so at the same time as we’re talking about getting down to zero carbon, we’re massively expanding the use of oil in plastic production…
This is an extract from an article published in the February 2021 edition of Reform