IT WAS supposed to be a bold signal of change – a pledge for the UK to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
Instead the Prime Minister Theresa May and her Tory government have been accused of squandering a “missed opportunity”.
In particular, failing to follow Scotland in moving towards a plastic bottle deposit return scheme.
May will launch a 25 Year Environment Plan in the morning, setting out what she claims is her Government’s determination “to leave our environment in a better state than we found it.”
She will reveal plans to extend the 5p carrier bag charge to more retailers after nine billion fewer plastic bags were used as a direct consequence of introducing the charge to bigger retailers.
It means smaller shops in England that had been exempt must now do the same.
The UK Government says it will also work with supermarkets to encourage them to introduce plastic-free aisles in which all the food is loose.
They will also look at how the tax system or charges could further reduce the amount of waste created. A call for evidence on how to reduce the use of single-use plastics will begin next month.
In a speech, May says: ‘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 the UK alone, the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls.
‘This plastic is ingested by dozens of species of marine mammals and over 100 species of sea birds, causing immense suffering to individual creatures and degrading vital habitats.
“One million birds, and over 100,000 other sea mammals and turtles die every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste. One in three fish caught in the English Channel contains pieces of plastic.
‘This truly is one of the great environmental scourges of our time.”
She will add: “I can confirm that the UK will demonstrate global leadership. We must reduce the demand for plastic, reduce the number of plastics in circulation and improve our recycling rates.”
“I want the Britain of the future to be a truly Global Britain, which is a force for good in the world. Steadfast in upholding our values – not least our fierce commitment to protecting the natural environment.
“When we host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April we will put the sustainable development of our oceans firmly on the agenda.
“We will work with our partners to create a Commonwealth Blue Charter and push for strong action to reduce plastic waste in the ocean.
“We will direct our development spending to help developing nations reduce plastic waste, increase our own marine protected areas at home, and establish new Blue Belt protections in our Overseas Territories.”
However her words came up short for some campaigners.
Louise Edge, Senior Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK said: “This announcement was billed as a major push to tackle our plastic problem, but it looks more like a missed opportunity.
“It’s good that the government wants to make tackling plastic waste a priority, but the specific measures announced today don’t match the scale of the environmental crisis we face.
“Encouraging more water fountains, extending charges on plastic bags and funding for innovation can all be part of the solution, but the overall plastics plan lacks urgency, detail and bite.
“The most glaring gap is support for deposit return schemes. 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.”
She added: “Given the strength of public feelings, the government has the support to be far more ambitious.
“Ministers should use the forthcoming plastic strategy to up their game and stop kicking the plastic bottle down the road. Britain has the potential to become the first country in the world to end throwaway plastic – it’s an opportunity we shouldn’t waste.”
The UK government estimates that 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s.
Research indicates that without urgent action to cut demand this is likely to be 34 billion tonnes by 2050.
In the UK alone, during its recent Great British Beach Clean Up, the Marine Conservation Society found 718 pieces of litter for every 100m stretch of beach surveyed, and of this rubbish from food and drink made up at least one fifth.
In September, the Scottish Government announced plans for a plastic bottle deposit scheme which led to hopes the rest of the UK might follow suit.
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