SBC's carbon reduction strategy

11th December 2020

Swindon Borough Council's draft carbon reduction strategy is in consulation until the 8th January 2021. There's an online survey which takes around 15 minutes to complete. Due to the nature of our response, we provided our feedback in the form of a letter:

Dear Swindon Borough Council.

I write to you on behalf of the Plastic Free Swindon campaign. Hence focus will be on plastic with regards to the carbon reduction strategy. Clarification on all points made can be found in the library on our website: https://plasticfreeswindon.org/resources/library

There is no mention of the contribution of plastics to climate change in this draft carbon reduction strategy. The Centre for Environmental Law’s Plastic and Climate report clearly details the significant and growing role that our use of plastic plays in climate change and mass extinction; interconnected factors. In order to have an effective carbon reduction strategy, plastic must be factored. It is therefore important to understand the problems of the current system, to move to genuine solutions.

Recycling has repeatedly been touted as the solution to dealing with plastic by the plastics industry and its proponents over the last 5 decades even though they were aware that a system of recycling is neither healthy nor sustainable:

  • Plastic ‘recycling’ is more accurately termed as downcycling, as it degrades and pollutes.
  • Only 9% of plastics made have ever been ‘recycled’.
  • ‘Recycling’ plastic requires the use of further virgin plastics.
  • There are thousands of chemicals that constitute what we call plastic; many of them toxic; most of them untested for safe use.
  • ‘Recycling’ plastic slows the rate of pollution only.
  • The proliferation of fracking has made virgin plastic cheaper than recycled plastic.
  • Plastic pollutes directly and indirectly throughout its lifecycle.

We have been in touch with Public Power Solutions (PPS) and members of the council to try and get a clear picture of how plastic is dealt with in Swindon. There is not a clear picture of how plastic is processed. In my correspondence with PPS, not once was it mentioned that plastic degrades during ‘recycling’. The recycling figures are presented in such a way to seem like a virtuous cycle. That is not the case.

Solid Recovered Fuel (SRF) is described in the draft strategy as one of “a number of initiatives that continue to benefit the Council, its residents and the wider borough”. Let’s be clear about SRF. The plastics / oil industry were among those who created and promoted this supposed standard (EN15359). It is not a standard as such, in that limits are unspecified. EN15359 merely stipulates to report levels of certain constituent elements. It places the onus of responsibility for its use on “responsible authorities”. This would seem to devolve responsibility.

The creation and use of SRF is an indirect way of burning waste, including plastic. The emissions from drying and burning this toxic mixture is neither healthy nor sustainable, contributing to disease and climate change. Extremely harmful and persistent materials such as dioxins and furans are released into the environment. How is this of benefit to anyone? Indeed, if this fuel was used in Swindon, rather than sold to Eastern Europe for use in cement kilns, the residents of Swindon might learn first hand of the dangers of burning SRF.

Chemical recycling is another non-solution to plastic pollution. Recycling Technologies’ chemical process is inefficient (85%), energy intensive, and polluting. It is to be noted that fossil-fuel derived plastic pollutes all through its lifecycle. Hence the idea touted by Recycling Technologies, of a circular plastics economy is a contradiction in terms. We suggest that Recycling Technologies' process should only be used in the short term until genuine solutions are implemented.

It is with sadness that I need to mention the incinerator at South Marston. This crude method of dealing with plastic and other waste is highly polluting and hazardous for health. The people of Swindon should note that such incinerators are often constructed in poorer communities.

Solutions to plastic pollution:

  • Implementing a system of zero waste.
  • Moving back to local production and services.
  • Supporting / furthering equality; aspects including wealth and income, racial, gender and housing provision.

Following are suggested actions based on the framework provided in the draft strategy that would work towards these solutions:

  • Incorporate a zero waste plan into both the waste and carbon reduction strategies. See https://zerowasteworld.org/zwmp for guidance.
  • Work with and support the Plastic Free Swindon campaign.
  • Provide accurate information in communications. The current methods of dealing with waste are far from ideal; recycling, pyrolysis, and incineration are not solutions to our waste problems. Such misinformation can hinder the adoption of genuine solutions.
  • Encourage / lobby central government to implement the Plastic Pollution Bill, which would enshrine in law a timetable of plastic reduction.
  • Reduce the council’s direct use of plastic. If the council wants to promote and further sustainability, it should surely be setting the example. Hence we urge the council to work towards and promote plastic-free operation / zero waste.
  • Support and promote measures to further equalities. The basis for council cuts that has seen poverty rise across the borough and the country have been on a fallacious basis. Cuts to council funding came about through the government’s austerity program. The premise for austerity was that overspending in the public sector caused the financial crash of 2008. That is untrue and needs to be challenged. Banks and a lack of regulation were responsible. Banks were bailed out, allowed to get away with criminal activity. This furthered inequality, lowering living standards for many. The consequential social ills contribute to waste, environmental destruction and climate change. If we are to have a healthy planet, we need healthy, happy people.

We hope that you will carefully consider our response to this consultation and make appropriate revisions to the strategy.