Prescribing less plastic….finally
Published: 13 Dec 2022
Polystyrene cups, food containers, cotton buds, plastic cutlery and plates, beverage stirrers, straws and balloon sticks are now prohibited now the Senedd passed has the Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Wales) Bill.
Download the full list here.
Single use plastic bags, used in pharmacies, were not included in the original list. They had also been granted an exemption when the Welsh Government had brought in the plastic bag charge in 2010.
Back in 2019 we were approached by a pharmacist to let us know that many pharmacies were still supplying prescription medicines in small single use plastic bags when others had already shifted to paper ones.
We decided to do a series of Freedom of Information requests from pharmacies in Wales to find out what the situation was. Probably not surprisingly, we were met with a variety of reasons for why they wouldn’t supply us with the information. What we did find out though was that Rowlands Pharmacy for example had issued 1,232,276 single use plastic prescription bags in Wales in 2017 and in the 3 years 2015-2017 issued a total of 3,644,280 of these bags.
So we weren’t able to get a total picture of the total amount of these bags being given out in Wales each year but given that just one chain was responsible for over a million of them each year then the total figure would obviously have been far higher.
Given that most plastic comes from oil and that means climate change emissions, as well as ever more single use plastic stuff needing to be dealt with or finding its way into our seas and oceans, it always seemed like a bit of a no-brainer that we needed to deal with this exemption.
Some pharmacies claimed that privacy for customers for their medications and also a perceived lack of strength of paper bags to carry heavier medical prescriptions were the issues and that they should continue to have an exemption. However, once certain other pharmacies switched to paper bags these arguments became somewhat obsolete. But yet they were still being handed out in huge numbers.
In the meantime Boots had started issuing prescriptions to customers in unbleached recycled brown paper bags.
Surely it was time for everyone else to follow suit?!
We knew from our pharmacy contact and others that the issues were not in fact around privacy and strength of bag but rather that medication was prepared in off site ‘hubs’ and then sent to individual pharmacies in plastic bags and also that some pharmacies had installed display racks that could only accommodate plastic bags rather than paper ones. Given the need to take drastic action on climate change and also on the plastic crisis, neither of these reasons seemed to be major enough to warrant continued exemptions or inaction.
So when Welsh Government announced that they would be bringing forward their Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Wales) Bill we thought it would be a good opportunity to again press this issue.
We submitted evidence to the Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee (page 23) and started lobbying.
On 6th December 2022 the Senedd debated various amendments to the Bill and the one brought forward by Delyth Jewell MS on pharmacy bags was passed! Welsh Government further amended the amendment to ensure that it included all single use plastic bags in pharmacies irrespective of how they were issued (to include for example over the counter medicine not classed as prescription medicine but that could otherwise have still been issued in single use plastic bags). So these are now included too.
Whilst this change won’t stop the plastic or climate crisis on its own, it nevertheless still needed to be dealt with, will save a few million single use plastic bags from entering circulation each year and will further enhance our reputation in Wales as somewhere that wants to deal with problem plastics.
Thank you to all those who have helped at various points in our campaign and thank you also to our pharmacist friend who brought this to our attention in the first place and who provided the original enthusiasm and impetus to finally achieve this change.
We still need to deal with all sorts of plastics of course. For some ideas of how you can help do check out our Amdani pages.