Government adviser says plastic is being unfairly ‘demonised’

Paper is worse for the planet: Government adviser says plastic is being unfairly ‘demonised’ in the war on waste

  • Dr Sally Beken scolded Theresa May over her demonisation of plastic pollution
  • The adviser said people and not the material are to blame for the contamination
  • She also said paper was much more harmful than plastic for the environment 

Dr Sally Beken has studied plastics for 30 years

A government adviser has suggested plastic is being unfairly ‘demonised’ and using less could actually be worse for the planet.

Plastic has been called ‘one of the great environmental scourges of our time’ by Theresa May but Dr Sally Beken, who reports to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, says people – not the material – are to blame.

‘We are demonising plastic; we think plastic kills,’ she told the Cheltenham Science Festival.

‘Plastic is a material that doesn’t have a conscience. We do. It’s not the material, it’s us.’

Dr Beken, who has studied and worked with plastics for 30 years, addressed a talk billed as ‘How Do We Solve The Plastic Problem?’.

She later told the audience that we need to be aware of the implications in changing from plastics.

‘If you have say 100,000 carrier bags in a lorry and 100,000 paper bags then you need seven times as many lorries to deliver the paper ones,’ said Dr Beken. ‘So there’s a carbon footprint implication.’

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The Prime Minister has called plastic pollution ‘one of the greatest environmental scourges of our time’

In a previous blog entry the scientist suggested Britain was suffering from ‘plastiphobia’ and admitted that her ‘love’ for plastics had made her a villain. She wrote: ‘For over 30 years I’ve been involved in innovation with polymers and I wholeheartedly value them; yet on the other hand when I mention I’m involved with plastics for a living, I sometimes get a look along the lines of “you killed a baby whale”.’

Pollution campaigners yesterday criticised her comments.

Sian Sutherland, co-founder of the Plastic Planet campaign, said: ‘What we need to remember is that we can offset our carbon footprint but we can never offset our plastic footprint. When people talk about the low carbon footprint and the low cost of plastic they are not considering the true cost of plastic – the environmental damage and its terrible impact on marine life.’

Julian Kirby, plastics campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: ‘We need to ringfence plastics that are needed for essential use, such as for medical and emergency services. But beyond this we need governments to come up with an action plan to phase out all but the most essential uses of plastic.’

Theresa May said plastic ‘was one of the great environmental scourges of our time’ when unveiling the Government’s environment strategy.

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