War on plastic waste to play central role in UK’s 25-year Environment Plan

The Government will today unveil its plans to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2042, with proposals to include an extension of the 5p plastic bag charge and a tax on containers such as takeaway boxes.

Theresa May and Defra Secretary Michael Gove will later today (11 January) unveil the Government’s much-anticipated 25-year Environment Plan , which will focus heavily on plastic waste.

Government sources have confirmed that it will consult on the extension 5p charge on single-use carrier bags, which has seen almost a 90% fall in usage since its launch in 2015. Currently firms employing less than 250 people are exempt from imposing the charge.

The Government will also work with supermarkets to encourage them to introduce plastic-free aisles in which all the food is loose, and inject new funding into plastics innovation through its £7bn R&D pot.

It will announce the introduction of a tax system reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste created by containers such as packaging and polystyrene takeaway boxes, first proposed in the Chancellor’s November Budget.

In a speech, May is expected to describe plastic waste as “one of the great environmental scourges of our time”.

She is expected to say: “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.”

‘Missed opportunity’

Contrary to national media reports, the document will not include proposals for a plastic bottle deposit scheme. Defra had consulted on how the UK could mirror the success of deposit return projects in Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, where recycling rates of containers are now above 90%.

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. And with another truckload of plastic waste going into our oceans every minute, we just can’t wait another 25 years before eliminating throwaway plastic.

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

‘Global leadership’

The wider plan will map out various pledges to improve specific areas of the environment including water, natural capital, air quality and resource efficiency. It is understood that plans to standardise recycling policy will be unveiled. 

Green campaigners will hope the document takes on board the Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendation for a 25p “latte levy” to be placed on all disposable cups.

Today will mark the PM’s first major environmental speech, in which she will reiterate the UK’s “global leadership” on resource efficiency. She is expected to announce a plan to use the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April to put the “sustainable development of our oceans firmly on the agenda”. 

George Ogleby

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