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The Bishop of St Albans: We must renew our sense of responsibility for the waste we create

3 min read

The Lord Bishop of St Albans writes in advance of his parliamentary question today to ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to implement action announced in the Budget statement to reduce levels of waste. 

Eighty-one percent of people say they are angry and frustrated by the amount of litter in our country, according to the Government’s 2017 Litter Strategy. I share their frustration, and I am not surprised that a 2014/15 survey found that 50% or more of main roads and industrial and warehousing sites had problem with littering. Two days ago, over Sunday lunch, two Hertfordshire residents here in my Diocese, raised the subject of fly-tipping in the countryside, and Blue Planet 2 has shown us the dramatic impact of plastic waste on our oceans’ health.

I was heartened to hear the Chancellor announce measures to address the unacceptable level of improperly disposed waste on land and in oceans in his Budget last week. The 5p levy on plastic bags has been enormously successful in reducing waste, and I hope that the consultation on single-use plastics will consider levies on some of the most common types of litter, including fast-food boxes, wrappers, coffee cups, and other snack packaging. 

Measures to tackle waste crime are also badly needed. The Environment Agency needs to be more active in identifying illegal waste sites and bring prosecutions in order to reduce criminal activity.  In its response to my question today, I hope the government will commit to introducing measures which both reduce the quantity of waste created, and encourage individuals to dispose of waste responsibly.

Littering and fly-tipping are crimes, but not ‘victimless’ crimes. Rather they damage the environment, mar our communities, and cost us all dearly. In 2016/17, the estimated cost of fly-tipping to local authorities in England was £57.7 million, a 16% increase from the previous year. This is money that could be spent on other much-needed public services, and given recent cuts to local authority budgets, is harder for government to tackle. Behaviour needs to change. 

Almost 50 years ago, at the 1968 Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Communion and the Church of England recognised the need “to take all possible action to ensure man’s responsible stewardship over nature.” Churches across the country and around the world often participate in litter pick-ups, are becoming more energy efficient, and working to reduce their carbon footprint. The waste we create affects our communities and our neighbours around the world. We must not forget our duty to care for the environment, and one another. 

While the government’s attempts to reduce waste are important, more action is needed to ensure people dispose of waste correctly. This means making recycling easier, and I hope the Government will commit to meeting a 50% recycling target by 2020. Additionally, in April this year the Government’s Litter Strategy for England committed to “developing, seeking funding for, and delivering a world class national anti-littering campaign, developing an anti-littering culture which aims to educate young people not to litter, and engaging local communities,” via a ‘litter innovation fund’. These are all excellent ideas, and I hope they will still be implemented, alongside the measures announced in the Budget. 

Changing attitudes about waste is difficult, but I trust that if government works with voluntary groups and civic society, we can renew our sense of responsibility for the waste we create. Commitment to the long-term well-being of others, rather than careless actions that benefit only ourselves, is challenging but necessary if we are to leave the environment in a better condition for the next generation.

The Rt Rev. the Lord Bishop of St Albans has been a member of the House of Lords since 2013.

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Read the most recent article written by The Rt Rev. the Lord Bishop of St Albans - Bishop of St Albans: My role is to speak up for other faiths as well as Christianity

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