Exploitation of natural resources under a ‘green veneer’

Green Party member Chris Nash outlines the problem of green hypocrisy from government, on the back of a Greenpeace report published earlier this week that found evidence that the UK’s plastic waste is being dumped and burned in Turkey.

Plastic waste on beach
Chris Nash

It is entirely predictable that the result of a rising tide of Green thinking – shown both in recent elections and in popular culture – will lead to organisations that hold power and influence doing more to hide their exploitation of natural resources under a green veneer. 

If we believe the supermarkets and the MPs who represent their interests in Westminster, the UK has effective recycling systems which keep harmful plastics out of the UK’s ecosystems. To quote DEFRA: “The UK is a global leader in tackling plastic pollution.”

However, as new research by Greenpeace shows, the UK is a ‘global leader’ only in the sense that it is exporting its plastic waste to be dumped in the developing world. Up until 2017 the dumping grounds were in China. A recent Greenpeace report has found that Turkey is now the recipient of the waste from our high streets and shopping malls. UK supermarkets generate about 900,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year. The Government would like us to believe that our new green habits ensure all plastic waste is properly recycled, but the actual figure is less than half. A figure of 241 trucks per day of plastic waste are now believed to be dumped in Turkey every day. Turkey totally lacks the infrastructure to recycle this amount of waste, so it enters local ecosystems, which is threatening the health of the Mediterranean Sea itself.

How should Greens respond? Let's first of all talk about the problem of recycling. We take it on trust from our local councils, sadly at the moment with Tory or Labour leadership, that the household waste we carefully sort for them is properly managed through the recycling process.  We can hold local representatives to account by asking for evidence that our waste doesn't end up on a Turkish, or any other inappropriate dump.

However, although it’s clearly important to be angry about what is happening wherever recycling systems are abused, we really need to point to the 'big' problem, which is the way 'green' ideas are being misused. This is the increasing damage being done by ‘green hypocrisy’. The Conservatives, Labour, the supermarket and food industries have all got ‘spin machines’ primed to convince us the environment and our health are safe in their hands. Plainly and simply, time and time again research shows that this is a lie.

Another example can be seen in the documentary What are we feeding our kids? to be screened shortly on the BBC. In this programme, Dr Chris van Tulleken records the disastrous effect on his health of a 28-day diet of ultra-processed food. He suffers rapid weight gain, piles and anxiety. Ultra-processed food is at the core of supermarket profits. There have been documented, scientific concerns about the health impacts of such foods since at least 2018, but none of the mainstream political parties have responded. Again I suspect that a wave of political anger after the BBC programme will produce a hypocritical flurry of political ‘briefings’ and possibly a ‘review’ but no sign of what is needed – regulation – because of the effect that would have on profits and donations. 

Greens must point with clarity and urgency to the fact that the powers-that-be, with vested interests in current economic inequalities, cannot be trusted to carry out the regulation or changes to habits of consumers which would prevent this (and other) life-threatening problems at source. 

Only a Green Party vote delivers social and environmental justice we can trust! Every one of us has the power to be an ‘influencer’, to keep reminding friends, family and our communities to look further than the ‘green veneer’. We know the people around us want to live in a greener, fairer, more sustainable world. Local councils across Britain are showing that when green anger becomes a green vote, we can achieve ‘root and branch’ change, which is the deep solution to these issues of human and environmental health.