Councillors have promised to aspire to make Worthing a plastic-free council – but fell short of committing to the town becoming plastic-free by 2021.
A petition, calling on the council to vote in favour of making Worthing a plastic-free town by 2021 and to support the work needed to make this happen, was discussed at a full council meeting on Tuesday.
A total of 1,001 people had signed the petition, which was started by members of the Labour party in Worthing.
Resident Helen Silman told councillors the number of signatures proved the issue of plastic waste was ‘important to people of every generation, political outlook, ethnicity and lifestyle’.
“We don’t have to wait for legislation to ban plastic items,” she said. “We residents of Worthing can set an example to other coastal towns.”
Councillors said they agreed with the spirit of the petition.
Councillor Edward Crouch said the council was already taking action on the matter – pointing to the recent publication of the Environment Framework, which outlines plans to reduce greenhouse emissions and become a plastic-free council.
“This is something the council takes really seriously,” he said. “It’s something we are taking steps on.”
Councillor Sean McDonald said the problem of plastic waste was ‘a global catastrophe’ but accused the Labour party members of hypocrisy – citing examples of councillors ‘using plastic cups’ and ‘handing out tic tacs’ at previous meetings.
He said: “I will support this motion today but let’s all work hand in hand together across parties. The Labour party have not come in to save us all from ourselves.”
Lib Dem councillor Hazel Thorpe agreed the political parties should work together on the issue, but said: “In my view a plastic free town can be done by communities over time, but I’m not sure that three years is long enough.”
She added that becoming plastic free required individuals to change their behaviour.
“It can’t be the responsibilty of the council alone,” she said. “The council can and should be accountable for its own actions. It can’t be made accountable for the actions of others, no matter how supportive we may be.”
Councillor Alex Harman agreed: “I think this petition is slightly directed at the wrong place. It should be to the other residents of Worthing asking them to change their habits.”
Councillor Val Turner said that while she wholeheartedly supported the concept of reducing plastic waste ‘as much as possible’, she said: “I can’t support the concept of plastic free, as in totally plastic free.”
She listed examples of items that use plastic such as footballs, glasses and contact lenses.
“We have to think carefully about this,” she said. “I’m not sure I would like to go back to the days of using glass syringes.”
Councillor Tom Wye asked councillors to consider the ramifications for Worthing Hospital and full time carers, like himself, who rely on the use of plastic equipment – adding that the cost of not using plastic ‘would be enormous’,
But Labour councillor Rebecca Cooper said councillors had misunderstood the petition.
She said becoming a plastic-free town meant gaining a status awarded by a national organisation and did not mean getting rid of all plastics entirely.
But councillors passed a motion stating that, while the council supported the sentiment of the petition, it would take no further action at this stage.
The council then considered a motion but forward by councillor Nicola Waight for the council to aspire to become a plastic-free council.
Ms Thorpe said it was ‘sensible to start with the council first’ and said a plastic-free council was ‘achievable’, while Mr Wye agreed it was a ‘realistic’ motion.
Ms Cooper said she supported the motion but said: “We should be less afraid of targets that stretch us. I think we do have stretch ourselves a bit.”
The motion was passed unanimously.