The 151-page document focuses on how the Government aims to improve the UK’s resource efficiency, biodiversity, air and water quality, and deliver ecological restoration.

But campaigners are frustrated that there is no legal weight behind the proposals.

The plan was launched by the PM in her first major green speech in office. She dedicated a large chunk of the speech to the issue of plastic waste, which she called one of the “great environmental scourges of our time”.

She said: “We look back in horror at some of the damage done to our environment in the past and wonder how anyone could have thought that, for example, dumping toxic chemicals, untreated, into rivers was ever the right thing to do.

“In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly.”

In line with predictions, a major focus of the 25-year plan surrounds efforts to tackle plastic waste.

As expected, a 5p charge on plastic carrier bags will be extended to all retailers, including all smaller shops with under 250 employees, which are currently exempt.

Supermarkets have been encouraged to adopt plastic-free aisles, in which all the food is loose. The Government will consult on a new tax system or charges for containers such as takeaway boxes, while a innovation fund for plastic waste solutions will be allocated money from the UK’s £7bn R&D pot.

The UK has pledged to provide “global leadership” in environmental protection with commitment to help developing nations tackle pollution and reduce plastic waste through foreign aid.

Contrary to national media reports, the document will not include proposals for a plastic bottle deposit scheme, although the Government will assess the results of a consultation in the Spring. The omission was labelled as a “missed opportunity” by Greenpeace senior oceans campaigner Louise Edge.

She said: “These are tried-and-tested ways to keep plastic bottles out of the environment and have strong public backing, yet there’s no trace of them in the Government announcement.”

Healthy environment

The plan confirms a consultation on a new environmental watchdog to hold government to account for environmental standards post-Brexit, and set out a new approach to agriculture and fisheries management.

The Government has vowed to use a natural capital approach to help the UK see the economic benefits of maintaining healthy environment. It will also create 500,000 hectares of new habitat for endangered species, and provide £5.7m to develop a new Northern Forest.

Other key measures include a pledge to investigate the feasibility of an anti-poaching taskforce to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, and extending the UK’s network of marine protected areas.  

Commenting on the plan, EIC executive director Matthew Farrow said:”Prime Ministerial speeches on the environment are an endangered species, so it is very welcome to hear Theresa May emphasise the crucial importance of the environment, the number of green jobs, the interdependence of economic growth and environmental progress, and the scourge of plastic waste.

“The pledge to show international leadership and to ensure Brexit does not lower green standards is already government policy but valuable to hear the PM say it herself.”

Tory rebrand

The plan has been identified by a Tory think-tank as an opportunity to improve the party’s reputation among young voters, who failed to support the party in big numbers at the 2017 snap General Election.

Labour has said the proposals are a “cynical attempt at rebranding the Tories’ image”, while Green Party Co-leader Caroline Lucas said that the plan would need to be backed up by an Environment Act with timetables and legislative weight.  

Speaking ahead of the plan on BBC Newsnight yesterday, Lucas said: “What we need to see… is a real commitment to an Environment Act, which is the thing that will actually make sure all of these aspirations are properly turned into policy.

“Because don’t forget we’ve been here before with the Conservatives adopting a nice green sheen. We had David Cameron hugging his huskies, but then a few years later, when he was actually in office, he went from hugging huskies to culling badgers and talking about green crap.”

There are concerns that the pledge to eliminate all “avoidable” plastic waste is too vague, with some commentators described the timescale of 25 years as too late.

“With another truckload of plastic waste going into our oceans every minute, we just can’t wait another 25 years before eliminating throwaway plastic,” Edge said.

“Given the strength of public feelings, the government has the support to be far more ambitious.”

George Ogleby

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