The Rame Peninsula is a beautiful stretch of coastline in South East Cornwall. If you can visit you will be rewarded with stunning walking and scenery.
But in April last year I joined around 300 people on one of the Peninsula’s beaches to carry a chain that was well over 1km long and made of around 65,000 plastic bottle tops. Contemplate that for a minute – in a few weeks of collecting plastic from these beaches there was more than a kilometre just of bottle tops, think how much more plastic there was on the beaches that didn’t make it into the chain. Then think again about just how much more plastic is getting into our oceans from beaches all round the South West, all round the UK and Europe, and all round the world. Perhaps that hammers home just how much we are damaging the planet that supports us.
The EU has done so much to ensure that we have clean beaches. We no longer export sewage from Cornwall to France and children no longer get ear infections from playing in the sea when on holiday (as I did when I was on holiday in Cornwall as a child). But we are now in danger of polluting our seas in a much more dangerous and long lasting way. I do not intend to stand by and watch this happen, which is why I am delighted that I was appointed to negotiate the EU's new Circular Economy legislative bill on tackling packaging and packaging waste.
I should also put the Circular Economy package into the context of EU environmental legislation. In its endorsement on remaining in the EU, the prestigious magazine Nature commended the EU for all the protections it has put in place to protect our beautiful British countryside from the worst excesses of manmade pollution and from the attack on our environmental protections by this Tory government.
Two of the most important of these laws, the Habitats and the Birds Directives represent the strongest possible legal protections available for any site of natural interest in the UK.
It is stronger than being designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is even stronger than being declared a National Park. It is tougher than any nationally established protection for the natural world in Britain.
The EU's new Circular Economy legislative bill is designed to be the next step in building these protections. This isn’t just about needing to be good custodians of our planet and its wildlife or about reminding ourselves how profligate we are with finite and potentially toxic materials – there is also a strong business case for developing new jobs and new economic opportunities through the circular economy.
But if Britain votes to leave the EU, there will be no restraints on this Tory government. We have seen since last May the cavalier attitude towards renewable energy and pursuing fracking in some of the most beautiful parts of the South West and the UK.
There are many other elements to the Circular Economy package, such as wider waste issues, tackling landfill and re-thinking electrical and electronic goods’ lifespan and waste management. I will, of course, be paying attention to these areas of legislation as well.
However, I will use the particular opportunity I have now to shape EU legislation on packaging waste. I will fight to develop these proposed laws into the strongest possible protections for our beautiful coastlines and countryside.
I also hope voters take the future of our countryside, coastline, and whole environment into account when making their choice on whether to remain in or leave the EU when they cast their votes in the referendum on June 23rd.