5 ways we'll benefit from the new Environment Act and how we can get on board

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Photo credit: tommy - Getty Images
Photo credit: tommy - Getty Images

On Tuesday 9th November 2021, a "world-leading" Environment Bill was passed in the UK that aims to protect and enhance our environment for future generations. The new law has three objective areas:

  • improve water and air quality

  • reduce waste

  • give nature a chance to recover

The idea for the new Environment Act is to help the UK deliver on many of the ambitious goals set out by the Government at Glasgow's COP26. A new independent watchdog – the Office for Environmental Protection – will hold the government to account on these goals.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: "The Environment Act will deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth. It will halt the decline of species by 2030, clean up our air and protect the health of our rivers, reform the way in which we deal with waste and tackle deforestation overseas. We are setting an example for the rest of the world to follow."

With that said, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have complied five things the Environment Act will help us do – and some top tips on what you can do now to protect our precious planet.

1. Boost recycling rates

This makes it easier for us to recycle more from our homes and encourages businesses to create sustainable packaging.

DEFRA want to be able to recycle at least 65% of municipal waste by 2035 – but at present, not everyone shares the same recycling systems where they live. The passing of the Environment Act will mean that the same consistent collection types will apply to everyone in England.

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW:

  • If your local doorstop collection doesn't accept some items, be sure to check on your local council's website to see if there are other ways you can recycle those items locally. Some supermarkets will also now take clean, soft plastics for recycling.

  • Think about the packaging used for the products you buy - can you select an option with less packaging? Or products that are made from more easily recyclable materials?

  • A great way to do this is by finding your nearest 'zero waste' shop and taking your own containers with you to stock up on household essentials. Local fruit and veg/farmers markets normally sell produce loose, so bringing your own reusable bags/containers will help cut down on packaging waste. You should also take your own bags to local supermarkets, instead of using ones they provide.

2. Continue the fight against single use culture

This creates the ability to introduce charges for more single use items, paving the way for a deposit return scheme for recycling drink containers.

Before the original charge on plastic bag usage was introduced in 2015, over 7.6 billion single-use carrier bags were handed out by supermarkets in England during 2014. That's around 140 bags per person - the equivalent of about 61,000 tonnes in total. Since the introduction of the scheme, the number of bags used has gone down by more than 95% in England.

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW:

  • You can continue to turn the tide on single use plastic by always remembering to take a reusable bag to the shops with you - keeping a few bags in the boot of the car, or by your front door, means you will always have one to hand.

  • You can also do a stock take on other single use plastic items that you use and find a more reusable or sustainable alternative. For example, use a lunch box instead of cling film. Or, find ways in which items can be given a second life - perhaps store party decorations away carefully to use them again or donate them to others via local social media sites.

  • Did you know that in the UK we go through an estimated 14 billion plastic drinks bottles, 9 billion drinks cans and 5 billion glass bottles a year? You can help reduce these numbers by carrying a reusable water bottle when out and about. If you do buy single use plastic, try to recycle whenever possible.

3. Halt the decline of nature

This requires a target to stop the decline in species by 2030.

The UK is sadly one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. For example, in England we have lost over 90% of our wildflower meadows over the last century. We need to act now to reverse devastating biodiversity loss and prevent more species from being lost forever. Trees are also key to this. As well as sequestering carbon, the iconic oak tree alone supports 2,300 species, of which 326 are dependant on oak trees for their survival.

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW:

  • If you have some green space at home - even if it's just a window box - think about how you can encourage wildlife into it. It could be putting out a bird feeder, planting some lavender or other pollinator friendly plants, or building a 'hotel' for bugs, frogs or even hedgehogs.

  • The 'Bees' Needs' campaign suggests 5 simple actions you can take to support insects in any outdoor space:

  • Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees - especially native species

  • Let your garden grow wild

  • Cut your grass less often

  • Don't disturb insect nest and hibernation spots

  • Think carefully about whether to use pesticides

  • You can even become a 'Citizen Scientist' and take part in initiatives such as the Pollinator Monitoring Scheme, which is a fun, family-friendly and important way for us to keep track of our vital pollinating insects.

  • Defra's 'Plant for our Planet' campaign provides even more advice, from partners including the wildlife trust to get people, businesses and communities planting trees and flowers and protecting nature.

4. Take actions to tackle deforestation in UK supply chains

Prohibit larger businesses in the UK from using key forest risk commodities that were not produced in compliance with relevant local laws.

Forests are the lungs of our planet, but we are losing them at an alarming rate. An area of forest the size of 27 football pitches is lost every minute. Deforestation is increasing in many parts of the world due to agricultural expansion driven by global demand for forest risk commodities such as beef, cocoa, leather, palm oil, rubber and soy. A significant proportion of deforestation is illegal. close to 90% in some key forests. The Act will help us tackle illegal deforestation in UK supply chains.

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW:

  • Be aware of the products you use that contain key commodities whose production is associated with deforestation. They are found in many products you wouldn't expect.

  • Take a look at the deforestation policies and commitments of the businesses you buy from. Ask them what action they are taking in order to meet these commitments.

  • Feed into our public consultation later this year to help us design and implement the regulations effectively.

5. Clean up our air quality

This will help local authorities and other public bodies to tackle air pollution.

The act means that we will set a legally-binding target to reduce concentrations of PM2.5 - the most damaging air pollutant to human health - by October next year, and a second target to reduce human exposure to pollution across the country.

Since 2010, the amount of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) - particles or liquid droplets in the air which present the greatest risk to public health - has reduced by 11%, while emissions of nitrogen oxides and fallen by 32% and are at their lowest level since records began. But, there is always more we can do.

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW:

  • Cut down on journeys by car where possible - walk, cycle or take public transport where you can. If you do need to drive, don't idle your engine - it's bad for air quality, bad for the climate, and bad for your wallet.

  • If you have a wood burning stove or open fire, burn better by using the correct fuel - a ban on the sale of coal and small volumes of wet wood for domestic burning came into force in May this year.

  • Try to avoid burning solid fuel where you have an affordable alternative - it's bad for the air quality and can impact on the health of you and your community.

  • Check with your local council whether you live in a Smoke Control Area, which have strict rules about smoke. The Environment Act makes these rules easier for councils to enforce - don't get caught out!

  • Avoid burning garden waste on bonfires - composting it is much better for the environment. Contact your local council if composting isn't an option for you.

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