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Is the UK Government Setting the Wrong Example for Pollution?

Dec 29 2017 Comments 0

A freedom of information request has revealed that the Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has purchased over 2.5 million disposable coffee cups in the last five years, which works out to approximately 1,370 every single day.

As the governmental department in charging of curbing pollution and looking after our planet, it seems an incredibly bad example for DEFRA to be setting. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond responded to the revelation by announcing that he and Environment Secretary Michael Gove would investigate ways on cutting plastic pollution in this year’s Autumn Budget.

More than just a drop in the ocean

The announcement was made by the Liberal Democrats’ environment spokesman Tim Farron, who obtained the figures through a freedom of information request. Farron found that 516,000 single-use cups had been purchased by DEFRA in the last year alone.

While that figure was a decrease from the 589,700 consumed in 2016 and the 785,100 bought the year before, it still represents staggering profligacy from a department supposedly geared towards conservation.

The broader picture from the House of Commons doesn’t offer much more encouraging viewing. In the last five years, the body has consumed four million cups in the same five-year period, with 657,000 in the last 12 months alone. That equates to around 1,000 per MP, or almost three per person per day.

With the government so keen to stress that plastic (and microplastic) pollution is everyone's problem and requires a collaborative effort in order to effectively address, the revelation is nothing short of an embarrassment.

“Get your own house in order”

Tim Farron was unequivocal in his condemnation of the Conservatives, pointing out that they were hardly a shining example for others to follow. “It’s astounding that the department which is supposed to be protecting our environment is responsible for such a colossal amount of waste,” he said.   

“Millions of plastic cups have been thrown away by the government, some of which will now be polluting our seas, rivers and countryside. Michael Gove needs to get his own house in order. A coffee cup charge should be introduced in the budget to tackle waste and encourage the use of reusable cups, including in the civil service and parliament.”

Despite his pleas, the Autumn Budget (announced towards the end of November) did not set out any concrete measures to tackle plastic pollution, but rather a vague promise to look into the issue. Opponents of the government such as Farron and environmentalists in general are crying out for affirmative action to be taken at once, before it’s too late.

In that vein, the biggest coffee chain in the UK Costa signalled its intention to address the wastefulness of the industry by introducing a coffee cup recycling scheme in all of their stores. Although the idea has only been trialled in London and Manchester as yet, the coffee giant hopes to roll it out on a nationwide basis before too long – and to open it up to cups purchased in rival stores as well.

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International Environmental Technology November / December 2017

December 2017

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