Plastic is a huge global issue. One study by Eriksen et al. (2014) estimated that over 5 trillion pieces of plastic, equating to a total weight of over 250,000 tonnes, were floating in our oceans. Other studies suggest that it won’t be long until we actually have more pieces of plastic than we do fish in our seas.</p>
We’ve seen the documentaries. We’ve seen the news reports. And I’m sure most of you will have seen the horrible video of the turtle with the plastic straw stuck up its nose. This problem isn’t going to go away – not unless we do something about it. And there is something we can do about it – we can stop using plastic straws.
Multiple students have come to me as Environment and Ethics Officer and asked we do something to encourage this. Suggestions have included using paper straws, and just getting rid of plastic straws altogether. Unfortunately, paper straws are outside of our budget; and multiple studies have suggested that forced, or involuntary anti-consumption (in this case removing straws completely) actually does more harm than good. With this in mind, we could implement a 5p tax on plastic straws – similar to the one used nationally for plastic bags.</p>
A plastic bag tax has been used to much success in multiple countries. England and Wales has seen an 83% decrease in plastic bag use since 2014 (GOV UK 2017), and Ireland has seen a 90% decrease since 2002 (Convery et al. 2007). In most cases, it exists in the form of a 5p levy, which nudges consumers away from using plastic bags and encourages them to use their own reusable bags. Any money generated from this is then redirected into environmental charities.</p>
Adapting this scheme to use on plastic straws in RUSU will likely see the same success. A survey of 50 Reading University students found that 68% of students use plastic straws on nights out; 22% use four or more straws per night. However, 41 out of 50 respondents (82%) said they would not use straws if they had to pay 5p to use them.</p>
Quantifying data from the survey suggests that during a night at Union, 2,000 students would use over 3,500 straws – or 1.75 straws per student. If 82% of these students, equating to 1,640 individuals, did not use straws, approximately 630 would be used at the end of the night; 2,870 less straws than the current figure.</p>
Within the survey, 35 respondents (70%) rated being environmentally friendly as very important, with 13 (26%) rating it quite important and 2 (4%) rating it not very important. So if over 95% of us believe it is important to be environmentally friendly, why not set an example for other unions and set a plastic straw levy. Any money made from the levy can be donated to environmental charities, or used to fund new environment projects.</p>
It’s the final straw!</p>
Convery, F., McDonnell, S. and Ferreira, S. (2007). The most popular tax in Europe? Lessons from the Irish plastic bags levy. Environmental and resource economics, 38(1), pp.1-11.</p>
Eriksen, M., Lebreton, L.C., Carson, H.S., Thiel, M., Moore, C.J., Borerro, J.C., Galgani, F., Ryan, P.G. and Reisser, J. (2014). Plastic pollution in the world's oceans: more than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tons afloat at sea. PloS one, 9(12), p.e111913.</p>
GOV UK. (2017). Single-use plastic carrier bags charge: data in England for 2016 to 2017 - GOV.UK. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/carrier-bag-charge-summary-of-data-in-england/single-use-plastic-carrier-bags-charge-data-in-england-for-2016-to-2017 [Accessed 16 Dec. 2017].</p>
Knapton, S. (2017). 193 nations sign pledge to tackle 'global crisis' of plastic in the oceans. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/12/13/193-nations-sign-pledge-tackle-global-crisis-plastic-oceans/ [Accessed 13 Dec. 2017].</p>
[Survey data available on request]</p>
Idea submitted by Kyle Smith.