I arrived at City Hall in May 2016 and one of the things that surprised me the most was the amount of plastic in use in building – plastic knives, forks and spoons if you bought food in the canteen but wanted to eat it elsewhere, plastic “glasses” which emerged every time water was offered to guests – and so on.
I took an individual stand and refused the plastic “glasses” by liberating some of the glasses available in the building, and started asking why so much plastic was in use.
I gathered fairly quickly that all the good practice implemented under Ken had gradually vanished under Boris, but carried on mentioning it just the same.
As the newly-installed chair of the Environment Committee I was in a good position to influence the Committee’s agenda and potentially that of the Mayor as well.
I suggested we held a meeting to discuss single-use plastic bottles – but it took until February 2017 to get that meeting from an idea to a reality. In April 2017 we then launched our report “Bottling It” which contained a number of very clear and highly implementable recommendations for the Mayor to consider.
Dealing with plastic had not featured in the original Mayoral manifesto, but I was heartened to receive a response in July from the Mayor to our report, that said he’d like to wait until the draft Environment Strategy came out to send his full response.
It seemed likely that dealing with single-use plastic bottles might be in the new Strategy. In August, the draft Strategy came out – and the Mayor had included dealing with plastic waste in the Strategy. He also wrote a very positive response to our proposals.
This was followed by an initial allocation in his draft budget of £300k for work from 1st April 2018 onwards – and by City Hall inviting experts to come in and give advice on how to implement our recommendations – or indeed, improve on them.
Then came the showing of “Blue Planet” – and suddenly, everyone starting talking about the impact of plastic.
I’ve now been contacted by plastics campaigners from across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. Articles about our proposals have featured globally – indeed, I was visited by a campaigner who came all the way from Japan, who is determined to see the Tokyo summer Olympics plastic-free.
The Mayor’s final budget increased the amount he will spend on tackling single-use plastic bottles to £750k – and the launch of “Refill London” sees the work on tackling single-use plastic bottles moving in only a year from something discussed in a Committee to actual action on the streets of London. Water refill points will really help move Londoners away from throwaway bottles.
And if you’re wondering about plastic in City Hall – yes, the majority of the single use plastic has gone too, apart from a few soft drinks. Bamboo knives, forks and spoons and re-usable plastic “glasses” are now in use – plus discounts for coffee if you use your own cup, with re-usable portable cups now prominently available.
There’s still more to do – and indeed, the March meeting of the Environment Committee considered what can be done about other forms of plastic – but we’ve started and the Mayor is moving things forward here in London.
How fantastic to hear this week that the Government is going to do something about bringing in a Deposit Return Scheme – this should help solve London’s litter problem, as well as getting not only the plastic bottles but also glass and metal container back where they belong, with the people who made then and who can and should re-use them.