After the protests is an opportunity for action

Written by: Ieva Asnina | Published:

Extinction Rebellion’s climate change protests in London and elsewhere have focused attention on an issue that is everyone’s business, including, of course, the waste management industry.

“Around the year 2030, 10 years, 252 days and 10 hours away from now,” said Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist who spoke to UK MPs last month, “we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, that will most likely lead to the end of our civilisation as we know it.”

Though her impassioned speech, covered extensively by the UK media, focused mainly on climate change, her overall message resonates to all aspects of saving the environment from further damage.

‘A sense of responsibility’

While a symbolic empty chair was left for Theresa May, even Michael Gove, the man who is tasked with trying to get Britain “greener”, told Thunberg that “we have not done nearly enough to deal with the problem of climate change”, saying that he also feels a “sense of responsibility and guilt”.

When the Environment Secretary is forced to admit to a 16-year-old that his generation and successive governments have failed her generation’s future, it is a stark reminder of the true influence of people-led movements.

The streets of Westminster have seen Extinction Rebellion protesters parked by the Parliament gates, having caused weeks of disruption in the capital. The activists, alongside Thunberg, have highlighted that there is more to politics in the 21st century than just Brexit and internal leadership battles. Indeed, Gove agreed to meet for talks following Extinction Rebellion’s protests.

Thunberg’s young voice, and the enthusiasm of protestors, is a breath of fresh air in a sea of many, much older – though highly respected and valued – opinions of the wider environment debate. If David Attenborough’s Blue Planet was a call to action then Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion’s activism is that action taking place.

Plastic’s place in climate change

Following Thunberg’s meeting with a number of party leaders, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable appeared at a Westminster Hall debate to discuss plastic recycling.

As he rightly pointed out, plastics have an ambiguous role in climate change, citing that while some plastics save on air miles and other forms of transport, they are also hydrocarbons, so their manufacture and disposal add to global warming.

There is speculation that in 2050, we could have between 15% and 30% of the UK’s carbon allowance dedicated to plastic use.

Climate change can only be tackled if all angles are covered, and that includes finding the role that plastics play. As a starting point, Defra should put in a bit more resources in order to fully understand the link and impact of plastic on global warming.

‘Can you hear me?’

Both Cable and Thunberg ended their respective speeches on a similar note – that the time is now.

The parallels between general public anger over the government’s treatment of environmental issues alongside the protests have ignited a sense of urgency, emphasising that time really isn’t on our side.

But this is not just ‘the people’s fight’. Businesses must ask themselves how they too can continue to play a crucial role in reducing plastic waste. Manufacturers, for example, should explore new, innovative ways to reduce packaging, and recycling firms need to consider the greenhouse gasses which may come from the disposal of plastics. Only through working together can we lead the charge to a greener Britain.

This wake-up call shows that the public are no longer prepared to sit back. Having targeted the government’s lack of response to the growing threat of climate change, it is entirely plausible that protesters will also target businesses that are failing to live up to their environmental duties.

On the flipside, firms that are able to explain the positive impact that they are having on the environment stand to gain reputationally and commercially – and this is a particular opportunity for the waste and recycling sector.

Whether it’s tackling plastic waste or cutting emissions, protecting the planet is everyone’s business. This is an opportunity for businesses to be on the right side of history.

Ieva Asnina is account executive at PLMR

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