Norwich’s drive to become a plastic-free city

Members on Norwich City Council last month unanimously supported a Green Party motion, which called for greater efforts to deal with the issue of single-use plastics (SUPs) in the city.

My hope is that Norwich will become a pioneer as a plastic-free city and as Greens we believe that the council can take a lead on this matter.

I am hoping for swift action on removing SUP items like disposable cups from water coolers in the council’s own buildings, and I would like to see an end to SUPs at other council-run premises, such as Norwich’s famous market, by the end of next year.

To offset any added expense traders might incur, I will be calling on the council to look at bulk-buying more sustainable, biodegradable packaging, cutlery, cups, etc. and providing them at a subsidised cost to traders for at least six months, while they adjust to the new policy.

Although it is far too early to provide definite figures about how much this policy will save or cost the local economy in Norwich, it is clear that the environmental benefits could be enormous, especially if the charge on plastic bags is anything to go by.

Before the UK government decided to introduce a small charge for carrier bags in larger shops in 2015, over 7.6 billion single-use plastic bags were given to customers by major supermarkets in England annually – about 140 bags per person.

In the first six months following the introduction of the 5p charge, the number of plastic bags issued fell by 85% – well above the government’s most optimistic predictions, and testimony to how a very small change in policy can have a very large and positive effect on the environment.

The local authority needs to be careful that when looking into alternative materials for packaging, such as those derived from bamboo or sugar cane, these ‘bioplastics’ do not use more fossil fuels to produce than conventional plastics

It is important to remember that there is considerable precedent for this move. New York City is fighting to join a number of other American cities in introducing such a policy, and in some cases action is being taken at a national level. France, for instance, is seeking to end the use of SUPs by the end of the decade.

Plastics, in particular styrofoam packaging, have been going out of favour for several decades, with Berkeley, California outlawing them as early as the 1980s; and today there is a growing popular demand for action to do what is best for our planet. Green Party councillors on Norwich City Council were pleased to follow in the footsteps of others and support such an initiative.

However, we do need to appreciate that this is simply a first step and while disposable cups may soon no longer be available for councillors and city council employees at meetings, the wider changes outlined in this motion will take some time to implement.

Indeed, the local authority needs to be careful that when looking into alternative materials for packaging, such as those derived from bamboo or sugar cane, these ‘bioplastics’ do not use more fossil fuels to produce than conventional plastics.

As a result, we would prefer citizens of Norwich to reduce their plastic consumption and reuse containers wherever possible; where this is not an option, we need to ensure that there is a less harmful alternative to SUPs. We hope to work with residents and local businesses to come up with a strategy that works.

I am aware that this motion is only the first stage of a much longer process towards making Norwich a cleaner and more sustainable city, but it does demonstrate the impact that local authorities can and should have in creating a better future for ourselves and future generations.

Photo by woodleywonderworks

Martin Schmierer

Martin Schmierer

Leader, Green Party, Norwich City Council

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