More than 130 people signed up for free passes to watch a new film delving into our love-hate relationship with plastic in the first-ever online community screening by Penrith Action for Community Transition.
The screening of The Story of Plastic was followed up on Thursday 21 May with an online discussion about the film and ways to reduce disposable plastic locally.
“This film highlighted a whole other side to the problem of disposable plastic that I hadn’t appreciated before,” said PACT volunteer Jaki Bell. “Whereas other films, media coverage and TV programmes like Blue Planet 2 have focused on the damage caused by plastic when it ends up as litter on land and in the seas, The Story of Plastic looked at why there is still so much disposable plastic being made and who’s driving it. It was a real eye-opener to see how vested interests have very deliberately and successfully made this out to be about litter and recycling, to shift the focus and blame away from the big companies that make the plastics and the products that come packaged in it.”
Figures shared by Greenpeace this spring showed that the amount of plastic waste from supermarkets is actually rising in the UK, despite all the media attention and pledges by retailers to address it.
“A lot of the promises by retailers have been about making more of their packaging recyclable, rather than cutting down substantially on disposable plastics, but the film showed that we can’t recycle our way out of this problem,” Jaki said. “There simply isn’t the capacity around the world to deal with the volume of plastic waste we’re producing. It’s clear that we won’t solve the plastics crisis by allowing the conversation to be about recycling any more. It’s about stopping using so much disposable plastic in the first place.”
The film concluded that the answer lies in changing government policy around the world, to end fossil fuel subsidies and make companies accountable for the impacts of their products throughout their whole lifecycle – from production right through to disposal.
Kicking off the online discussion, PACT gave a brief update on its current projects aimed at reducing plastic, including the Refill scheme where premises in the town will refill water bottles with tap water free of charge, the Penrith Repair Café, the Plastic Clever Cumbria Pledges scheme, and events in partnership with the Penrith and Eden Freegle group.
Councillor Doug Lawson, mayor of Penrith and chair of Penrith Town Council, gave an update about the Plastic Clever Penrith initiative, which aims to encourage businesses in the town to reduce disposable plastic. Laura Clarke from Clarke’s Fusions in Little Dockray in Penrith outlined how her family business has been trying to use less plastic in their shop, and some of the challenges they’ve faced – not least in sourcing products that aren’t packaged in plastic. They are among the businesses in the town that share packaging such as bubble wrap with each other, so it can be reused.
Amy Bray from the charity Another Way, linked to the Another Weigh zero-waste shop in Penrith, talked about the importance of educating people about plastic and other environmental challenges, and how individuals can make a difference through changes in their own lives.
Participants discussed a range of ways to reduce plastic in Penrith. Ideas included a campaign on re-using some types packaging, such as Jiffy Bags, and campaigns to encourage shoppers to use their power of consumer choice to boycott products in plastic packaging. There was also a suggestion to encourage local shops to have cardboard boxes available at checkouts as an alternative to plastic bags.
There was also a discussion about the balance between pushing for policy change – the main message from the film – and activities at community level to help people use less plastic.
“We may not feel we have the power to directly influence the big oil and plastics companies or UK government policy, but sometimes policy changes happen because of a groundswell of public opinion, and that’s something we can all help to create through activities in the community and by making changes in our own lives,” Jaki said. “Campaigning by groups like PACT across the UK and a shift in public opinion helped to bring about a charge on plastic bags, for example, which has resulted in an 80 per cent decrease in their use.”
One of the participants hailed from Shropshire, and complimented Penrith on the efforts happening here.
“The attendee said we are streets ahead of her town and that she was particularly impressed to see our mayor showing leadership and driving changes, which was all very encouraging to hear!” Jaki said.
The online screening and discussion was a first for PACT, embracing video conferencing technology and the audience’s newfound willingness to use it, in light of the pandemic lockdown.
“Like many organisations, we’re looking at how we can use online tools to keep our projects moving while public events and activities are on hold,” Jaki said. “There’s the extra benefit of reducing carbon emissions, as people don’t need to travel, as well as reaching new people.”
A video recording of the panellists’ presentations will be available to watch shortly, via the PACT website at www.penrithact.org.uk, where there’s also a link to an online screening of The Story of Plastic hosted by City to Sea, the organisation behind the national Refill scheme.