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Kevin McCloud has put together a 10 point action plan to tackle the plastic pollution problem.

Kevin McCloud on stage with Friends of the Earth and Join the Pipe campaigners talking about the plastic pollution crisis at grand designs live at the NEC in October 2018 - kevin mccloud on plastic pollution - granddesignsmagazine.com

Image: Bircan Tulgan

There are, no doubt, a thousand things you or I could do to save the planet. We could buy and consume less, recycle more, save water, become vegetarian and walk everywhere. We could give all our money to developing-world, goat-breeding charities or we could even stop breathing. We certainly need to do something about plastic.

Every industry on the planet uses plastic in some form. Our cars, products, machines and homes are full of a host of different chemical plastics. In construction, they’re used extensively on site – for safety barriers, hard hats, tapes, plumbing pipes, electrical cables, fittings, floors, wallcoverings, paints, decking, doors, insulation, membranes, glues, doorbells, drains and downpipes.

Even the most determined green constructor will succumb to a buried waste pipe made from PVC, one of the most noxious plastics on the planet because of its resistance to being recycled and its habit of leaching chlorine into the environment. Very few people resort to old-fashioned clay pipework.

Grand Designs Live has a policy of selling no drinks in single-use plastic bottles. We are also lucky enough to have Friends of the Earth as a sponsor and, in October, I was able to share a platform with FoE’s campaigner on plastics, Emma Priestland, together with Andrew Eversden of Join the Pipe, a charity that aims to bring the ‘power of tap water to everybody everywhere’ with reusable drinking bottles and free water standpipes, as well as Stella Corrall from Lucentia, an artist and designer who reuses, melts and fuses waste plastic to make objects of extraordinary beauty, such as chandeliers, which change the way we view the raw material. A panel of experts with wide-ranging, practical experience of our plastic world.

Lucentia Design's plastic recycling installation at Grand Designs Live, October 2018 - Kevin on plastic pollution - granddesignsmagazine.com

Image: Lucentia Design installation, Andrew Wall 

The rather quick outcome of our hour spent together on stage – with input from our helpful audience – was the following 10-point action strategy for government, plastic manufacturers, food and packaging companies, consumers and the waste and recycling industries. As you’d expect, the points centre around the larger resource objectives of reduce, reuse, recycle.

Here's a round up on the action plan put together. 

  • Supermarkets and the food chain should work collectively with the charity sector on a public campaign to commit to plastic-free packaging. Think of a world where you can refill your cleaning products and shampoos in a local store. In fact you already can, thanks to companies such as Ecover and Method.
  • We need a tax in the supply chain on plastics so that their cash price includes clean-up, recycling and environmental-impact costs. Retailers should be fined for excessive and non-recyclable packaging.
  • Recycling information on packaging needs to be improved – it’s currently woefully unhelpful. We need a recycling equivalent of the Red-to-Green energy-efficiency labels on electrical goods.
  • Packaging should also be labelled with instructions for reuse: how long it will last and how UV-resistant it is; plus suggestions for creative reuse.
  • The drinks and food industry must revert to a deposit scheme for packaging and focus on reusable glass – not plastic – containers. Tesco is now trialling a glass and plastics deposit scheme.
  • The plastics manufacturing and supply industry should work with government and charities to create better and more virtuous closed-loop supply chains with the aim of 100 per cent of plastics being recycled or reused. We don’t need to make any more of it.
  • The design industry has responsibilities: to find replacement materials for plastics; to design fewer things made from them; and to design in recyclability and reuse.
  • We need a developing-countries plastics strategy linked to foreign aid.
  • We should ban biodegradable plastics. This sounds plain wrong but biodegradable plastics are difficult to spot in the waste stream and compromise the longevity and usefulness of recycled plastics when mixed with them. Their decomposition rate also varies enormously, depending where they end up.
  • Local authorities should aim for 100 per cent plastic recycling. Not burning or sending to landfill, but reuse as a valuable raw material. This may not represent a coherent strategy, but it’s a good start. Some of the ideas are certainly on other people’s lists. Importantly, there will be some good ideas missing from mine. I’d like to add some new nuggets and polish up those we’ve got. So don’t be shy and do write to me at GD Towers (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) with your own contributions, amendments and corrections to this list, as you see fit.

Then, who knows, Friends of the Earth might adopt it as policy; we could take it to central and local governments, supermarkets and drinks companies and actually get some things changed. Because it isn’t quite good enough just to save and reuse the odd plastic bag.

 

What do you think of Kevin's plastic pollution action plan? Let us know by tweeting us @granddesignsmag or post a comment on our Facebook page.

 

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