NERC supports UKRI A Vision for Zero Plastic Waste parliamentary engagement
14 June 2018
How can science and innovation contribute to solving the problem on the tip of everyone's tongue?
(From left) Andrew Griffiths, Head of Environmental Sustainability at Nestlé; MP Geraint Davies; Professor Charlotte Williams; Peter Maddox, Director of WRAP UK; MP Alistair Carmichael and Professor Richard Thompson
On Monday 11 June, NERC researchers and representatives supported a cross-disciplinary parliamentary reception led by UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), bringing together authoritative voices from science and innovation, industry and politics under the title: A Vision for Zero Plastic Waste.
The event is a collaboration between UKRI and Policy Connect, and launched a series of activities to engage parliamentarians and industry with research evidence that will guide solutions to the problem of waste plastics in our environment. The project aims to raise awareness of current publicly-funded research and innovation, and demonstrate the positive impacts this research could have on informing policy, people and industry.
Science journalist and UKRI board member Vivienne Parry OBE opened the evening in the Churchill Room, Westminster, by highlighting the vital contribution of all research disciplines in tackling this complex problem, from the role of humanities in understanding human behaviour change to the challenge of developing new materials and novel ways to use plastic waste, paving the way for a circular plastics economy.
High-profile television coverage of the devastating impact of plastics on marine birds, mammals and fish, spearheaded by Sir David Attenborough in Blue Planet II, has energised people at all levels in the UK on the topic of plastic pollution. Aspiring to zero plastic waste is the future and researchers across UKRI have a vital role to play.
Member of the House of Lords and Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change The Rt Honourable Lord Deben kicked-off a series of two-minute speeches. He emphasised that making sure "doing the right thing" is easy for consumers will be key to changing people's behaviour around using and disposing of plastics.
Academics, whose work is supported from across the seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England that are part of UKRI, told the audience how their research can help shape the response to the plastics challenge. Professor of inorganic chemistry Charlotte Williams, from the University of Oxford, made the case that plastic waste can and should be used as resource to make higher-quality and innovative products, and professor of environmental psychology Wouter Poortinga, from Cardiff University, emphasised that a significant part of the solution to the human-made problem of plastic waste lies in understanding human behaviour and attitudes.
Dr Rhoda Trimingham, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Design & Technology at Loughborough University, said that tackling waste will require scrutiny of the production and manufacture systems in their entirety, not just the points at which plastics are used. Professor of marine biology Richard Thompson, from Plymouth University, put forward that the problem is not plastics, but how we use them - adding that while there is no quick fix, solutions will be formed by bringing research disciplines together.
Throughout the evening, MPs, including Geraint Davies, Member of Parliament for Swansea West and member of the Environmental Audit Committee; Alistair Carmichael, Member of Parliament for Orkney & Shetland; and Barry Sheerman, Member of Parliament for Huddersfield, described their visions for achieving zero plastic waste in the UK.
Fresh perspectives also came from industry figures including Andy Griffiths, Sustainability Manager at Nestlé, and Marcus Du Pree Thomas, Development Manager at Viridor, who addressed problem plastics from the perspective of the waste industry, alongside Peter Maddox, Director of WRAP UK, which works with governments, businesses and communities to deliver practical solutions to improve resource efficiency.
Issues raised for consideration by speakers throughout the evening, and during the Q&A session, included exploring new labelling to highlight plastic content, re-fill and plastic deposit schemes.
Evidence and information from the reception, and two further round-table meetings, will be incorporated into a report summarising the recommendations for achieving zero plastic waste, to be published in early 2019.
NERC's new video championing the role of research and innovation in combating plastic waste was launched at the Vision for Zero Plastic Waste event:
External Communications Manager
1. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is part of UK Research & Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
2. Policy Connect is a cross-party think tank improving people's lives by influencing policy. They collaborate with government and parliament, through their all-party parliamentary group, and across the public, private and third sectors to develop our policy ideas. Policy Connect work in health; education & skills; industry, technology & innovation, and sustainability policy.