Time our politicians cleaned up their act on plastic bottles like Glastonbury – Jayne Dowle

DOWN in Glastonbury the Eavis family, organisers of the major music festival which concluded last night, simply rolled up their sleeves and got on with it.
This year's Glastonbury festival saw a number of environmental commitments.This year's Glastonbury festival saw a number of environmental commitments.
This year's Glastonbury festival saw a number of environmental commitments.

They informed festival-goers that plastic bottles would be banned on-site this year for the first time and instead offered water-stations, where people could fill up their own water bottles for free with tap water.

Tap water, or ‘corporation pop’ as it’s known in our house. I’d like to have heard some of the comments about that from the more cossetted revellers in the queues to fill up. Yet, good old tap water performs exactly the same function of rehydration as expensive alternatives which contribute massively to the amount of landfill we produce.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Plastic bottles were banned from this year's Glastonbury festival.Plastic bottles were banned from this year's Glastonbury festival.
Plastic bottles were banned from this year's Glastonbury festival.

As well as a strict policy on plastic bottles, the festival also took a hard line on recycling; 100 rubbish pens were erected to dispose of waste; plastic forks, spoons and straws were replaced with biodegradable alternatives and co-organiser Emily Eavis issued a warning over festival-goers simply abandoning their tents (which aren’t recyclable) at the end of the jamboree.

Meanwhile, whilst Ministers have been occupied with Brexit and who might become our next Prime Minister, little has been heard of the Government’s plans for a ‘greener Britain’.

Mind you, everything in public policy quarters at the moment is ‘subject to consultation’. This includes major ideas for overhauling public attitudes to recycling and cutting plastic pollution.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

So far, the Tory leadership battle is an opportunity missed. Apart from his disingenuous stance on the third runway at Heathrow airport, front-runner Boris Johnson has had precious little to say on the environment.

Should the Government match the spirit of Glastonbury when it comes to recycling?Should the Government match the spirit of Glastonbury when it comes to recycling?
Should the Government match the spirit of Glastonbury when it comes to recycling?

And although his opponent Jeremy Hunt has vowed to ‘turbo-charge’ the UK if he becomes Prime Minister to make it the “most hi-tech, greenest economy in Europe”, his grand promise, like so many of his pledges lacks useful detail. He is also dangerously self-contradictory; on one hand leading the UK’s bid to host the UN climate talks in 2020, on the other giving his backing to oil and gas projects in rural areas.

Is it any wonder the public are confused when our politicians switch their attitudes more often than the ever-more unpredictable weather changes?

Only last week, Theresa May’s de facto deputy David Lidington took it upon himself to take a helicopter to Manchester instead of braving the trains.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And for what had he ventured North? To discuss the Northern Powerhouse and, ahem, reducing carbon emissions. And why did he fly, presumably at taxpayers’ expense? “In order to get to places we would not be able to get to otherwise,” he said in one sentence which tells us everything we need to know about the disconnect between the Government and the rest of us.

While he was hovering over the Pennines, I was standing in the queue in a well-known high street homewares store, where I overhead an older lady complaining to the cashier that there were no large re-usable 10p carrier bags. “You’re always running out of them,” she said, in an accusatory tone. My first thought was that these bags are, by their very nature, ‘re-usable’. In other words, you bring them back time and time again until they drop to pieces. I know this to my cost, as several of mine have decided to split just as I’m leaving the supermarket laden down with groceries.

However, to my astonishment, things became ever muddier when the cashier replied: “Well, you see, the Government only lets us have so many and when they’ve gone, they’ve gone. There’s nothing we can do.”

Now, I know that politics has been a bit heavy-going recently, but the last time I looked we weren’t quite under the iron fist of a totalitarian regime, handing out carrier bags one by one.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

I’m not sure that Rory Stewart, the Minister responsible for introducing the ‘plastic bag tax’ in 2015, quite expected that kind of outcome to his well-meaning contribution towards saving the planet.

However, if this is the kind of confusion about climate change policies which exists amongst perfectly normal and ordinary people going about their daily lives, it surely should stand as warning that the Government needs to do much more to bust some myths.

Whilst the efforts of individuals, not least the organisers of the Glastonbury Festival, are to be commended, they are a drop in the over-polluted ocean if not underpinned and backed up by a serious national commitment to reducing waste and promoting recycling.

Whoever ends up in Number 10 in coming weeks, I would urge him to look to the environment as a matter of priority. There needs to be a much stronger public information campaign, a far more joined up approach to how we deal with refuse and a serious commitment to backing alternatives to plastic. Our future could literally depend upon it.