England accused of ‘falling behind’ EU on plastic pollution

Half of the companies yet to take action intend to do so within the next two years.

The warning comes from the not-for-profit City to Sea, which has slammed the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for its “lack of action” in delivering on its promise to ban some of the most polluting single-use plastics – such as plastic cutlery, plates and polystyrene food packaging, all of which are covered in the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive.

In February 2022, City to Sea joined forces with Greenpeace and campaigners 38 Degrees to hand in a petition with over 117,000 signatures to Downing Street demanding a complete ban.

A new report from the Rethink Plastic alliance in collaboration with the Break Free From Plastic movement found that even though Scotland and Wales  werejoining other EU countries in adopting plans and legislation to ban the top 15 most polluting single-use plastics, one year after the rules were adopted across Europe, England still has no draft legislation in place.

More than 50,000 of those who signed the petition also went on to respond to the Defra consultation, demanding that the most polluting single-use plastic items should be banned.

The vast majority of respondents backed a ban on all the items being considered – such as cutlery, plates and polystyrene takeaway containers – with support at 96% or above across the board.

Crucially, almost two-thirds (64%) thought the government needed to introduce the ban without delay.

The report shows real progress by other countries. Top performers in 2021 (Greece, France, Sweden, Ireland and Estonia) were joined in 2022 by Luxembourg, Denmark, Cyprus, Slovenia, Latvia, Spain and Portugal.

Some of these countries even showed higher ambition than what was required by the EU Directive, notably on the measures to achieve consumption reduction for non-banned items and had taken significant strides to implement Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

Steve Hynd, policy manager at City to Sea, said: “It’s frankly embarrassing that we’re having to, once again, point out that England is at risk of falling further behind the rest of Europe on key environmental standards post-Brexit. We were promised a “Green Brexit” but have so far little to illustrate this. Instead, all we have is delay and political instability leaving the markets uncertain about if and when this ban will occur.

“Their tardiness stands in contrast to the findings of today’s report that details how other European countries are progressing at phasing out the most polluting single-use items and in some cases like Sweden, Greece, Portugal and Ireland going much further. England desperately needs to catch up and get this important piece of legislation in place.”

He added: “We’re now over a year since EU member states needed to adopt this ban and other measures in the Directive. Even taking into account the recent political turmoil, I am lost for words at how 8 months after the close of the consultation its results are not even public. It’s leaving us trailing behind the rest of Europe when we could and should be leading in tackling plastic pollution.

“Now is the time for the new Secretary of State, Ranil Jayawardena, to take this up personally and make sure it is delivered as his government has repeatedly promised.”

Liz Truss’s government is due to give an emergency budget statement later today (21 September), outlining changes to tax and benefit schemes.

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