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Why I sent a lemon to the UK Government – and so should you

Our governments are failing to speak up together for an ambitious plastics treaty. Let’s help them clear their throats.

Written by Tearfund | 23 Feb 2024

Campaigners holding lemons outside the Houses of Parliament in London, UK. Photo: Tom Price/Tearfund

Campaigners holding lemons outside the Houses of Parliament in London, UK. Photo: Tom Price/Tearfund.

When life gives you lemons, use them to advocate for change. That’s the saying, right? Let me explain… 

Over the past year, Tearfund has been campaigning on plastic waste through the Rubbish Campaign. We’ve been calling on world leaders to ensure the ongoing UN global plastics treaty talks tackle the impacts of plastic pollution on people living in poverty. 

In the UK, our plastic waste generally goes into the bin and is immediately out of sight and out of mind. At least, that’s how I used to view my waste. But this changed when I spent three months on a Tearfund volunteer trip in Bangladesh. 

I remember standing in the colourfully painted house where we were staying and taking off my make-up with a disposable wipe. I put the wipe in the bin in my room and thought no more of it. 

Some hours later, as the sun started to set, I decided to go for a walk around the local streets and came across a small pond littered with rubbish. There were shiny sweet wrappers and crisp packets, but it was something else that caught my eye. I spotted what must have been my make-up wipe. 

With no formal waste collection for many in Bangladesh, people have no choice but to dump or burn their rubbish. In our case, it went straight into the pond. That wipe of mine could contribute to the plastics problem for another 100 years, as it slowly breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. 

This moment changed the way I consume. I realised that my waste doesn’t just disappear when I put it in the bin. It continues to have an impact that is often damaging to both people and the planet. Ever since, I have been gradually reducing my plastic waste where I can, for example swapping disposable face wipes for reusable face cloths.  

What I saw in Bangladesh is the daily reality for the 2 billion people around the world who have no safe way to dispose of rubbish. This means people are forced to live and work among piles of waste. Burning it releases toxic fumes and makes people sick, dumping it floods communities – all of which causes up to a million deaths each year. That’s equivalent to one person dying every 30 seconds.
People without any safe way of disposing of their rubbish are forced to dump or burn it. In Parbatipur municipality, Bangladesh, the waste piles up around a pond. Photo: Magnet Jambil/LAMB.

People without any safe way of disposing of their rubbish are forced to dump or burn it. In Parbatipur municipality, Bangladesh, the waste piles up around a pond. Photo: Magnet Jambil/LAMB.

This is why we have been calling on governments and companies to end this rubbish problem. Right now we are at a critical stage in the plastics treaty talks. Big polluters and vested interests are resisting efforts to develop a world-changing treaty. As part of the negotiations, there are 64 countries who are part of the High Ambition Coalition, but despite this encouraging title, they are failing to speak up together when we need them most.

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This left me wondering: how could I send a message to the ‘High Ambition Coalition’ asking them to use their voices for change? I knew it needed to be attention-grabbing so pen and paper weren’t going to cut it. Enter the humble lemon. 

When I’m feeling under the weather with a sore throat, my favourite remedy is a squeeze of lemon and honey stirred into a mug of hot water. The High Ambition Coalition seem to have lost their voices, so what better way to help them clear their throats and speak up than sending them their own lemon tonic!

Armed with my lemon, a written recipe for a soothing remedy and a large envelope, I wrote to Steve Barclay MP, Secretary of State for the Environment (DEFRA). I shared why it is so important that the UK, as members of the High Ambition Coalition, use their voice to ensure the Coalition speaks up for an effective, binding treaty that tackles plastic pollution. I also explained why this issue matters to me: because I want to be part of a world where people and nature can thrive, not drown in plastic. 

But my lemon alone may not be enough to get DEFRA’s attention. So why not join me in helping to cure the Coalition’s sore throat by sending them a lemon or your own choice of remedy? All the instructions can be found at: 

If you do send your own message, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us an email at: [email protected] to let us know you’ve joined me in taking action.

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Written by  Tearfund

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