As Environment Minister, I believe it is incredibly important for us all to think about how we can build back greener and protect the UK’s beautiful countryside and oceans for future generations.
The Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS) for England, published in December 2018, sets out the Government’s plans to reduce, reuse, and recycle more plastic than we do now. Our target is to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste throughout the life of the 25 Year Environment Plan, but for the most problematic plastics we are going faster - which is why we have committed to work towards all plastic packaging placed on the market being recyclable or reusable by 2025.
We have made significant progress, we have introduced one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products and brought in measures to restrict the supply of plastic straws, plastic drink stirrers, and plastic-stemmed cotton buds in October 2020. The use of single-use carrier bags has been reduced in the main supermarkets by over 95% with our 5p charge. To build on this success, and create a level playing field for all businesses, we increased the charge to 10p and extended it to all retailers in May 2021.
We recently consulted on proposals to ban the supply of single-use plastic plates, cutlery, and balloon sticks, and expanded and extruded polystyrene food and beverage containers, including cups. We are committed to going further and addressing other sources of plastic pollution, which is why we also ran a call for evidence to help us gather information on other problematic plastic items and help inform future policy making. We were particularly interested in wet wipes, tobacco filters, sachets, and other single-use cups. In addition to these four items, we sought views on other potentially problematic single-use plastic items and whether there is support for future policy action for these items, as well as how to achieve a shift away from single-use culture. The consultation and call for evidence closed on 12 February 2022, you can find out more information at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/single-use-plastic-banning-the-supply-of-commonly-littered-single-use-plastic-items. We are currently analysing responses and will provide a further update in due course.
Our Environment Act enables us to significantly change the way that we manage our waste and take forward a number of the proposals from the Resources and Waste Strategy. The Act includes powers to create extended producer responsibility schemes; introduce deposit return schemes; establish greater consistency in the recycling system; better control the export of plastic waste; and give us the power to set new charges for other single-use items. Further information can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/world-leading-environment-act-becomes-law
The Environment Act 2021 requires the Government to set at least one long-term, legally binding target within a number of the highest priority areas for environmental improvement, including Resource Efficiency and Waste Reduction. Draft regulations setting this target will be laid before Parliament by October 2022. These targets will be set following a robust, evidence-led process that includes seeking independent expert advice, a role for stakeholders and the public, and approval from Parliament subject to the affirmative procedure. We want to set a Resources and Waste target that ensures a holistic approach to all materials. We believe that setting a wider reaching target that encompasses plastics as well as other materials will achieve the best environmental outcome. We are currently consulting on the first suite of targets, including resource efficiency and waste reduction. The consultation closes on 11 May 2022.
These measures, alongside others within the Act, form a package of powers that will help incentivise and shift the market towards more reusable alternatives – making both businesses and citizens more aware of the environmental costs of the products they use. We will continue to review the latest evidence in partnership with stakeholders, including the Waste and Resources Action Programme and the UK Plastics Pact, on problematic products to take a systematic approach to reducing the use of unnecessary single-use plastic items.
Our action to tackle plastic pollution
- Our Environment Act gives us a raft of new powers to step-up our war against plastic pollution and litter:
- We are committed to introducing a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers, which will recycle billions more plastic bottles and stop them being landfilled or littered.
- Our Extended Producer Responsibility scheme for packaging will make manufacturers responsible for the full net cost of recycling their packaging waste and encourage more recyclable packaging.
- We will introduce Consistent Recycling Collections for every household and business in England, ensuring more plastic is recycled and not condemned to landfill.
- We will consult on a ban on the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries.
- We have new powers that will make it easier to place charges on single-use plastic items that threaten our ecosystems.
- Building on the success of our carrier bag charge to date, we have increased it to 10 pence and extended the obligation to charge to all retailers.
- We have introduced one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products and brought in measures to restrict the supply of plastic straws, plastic drink stirrers, and plastic-stemmed cotton buds in October 2020.
- We recently consulted on proposals to ban the supply of single-use plastic plates, cutlery, and balloon sticks, and expanded and extruded polystyrene food and beverage containers, including cups.
- We ran a Call for Evidence on other problematic items, including wet wipes, tobacco filters, sachets, and other single-use cups.
- The UK launched the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance (CCOA) in 2018, along with our co-chair Vanuatu, to reduce marine plastic pollution. Since its launch, 34 Commonwealth member states have united to take action on tackling plastic pollution.
- To support the ambitions of the CCOA, the UK has committed up to £70m to tackle plastic pollution entering the ocean. This includes boosting global research, supporting developing countries and making efforts to transition to more sustainable forms of manufacturing.
- The UK’s Commonwealth Litter Programme (CLiP) has supported several Commonwealth countries to develop National Marine Litter Action Plans which focus on preventing plastics from entering the ocean, with emphasis on capacity building and developing plastics monitoring programmes.
- Since 2018, the UK has supported the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) to create collaborative platforms for businesses across the plastics supply chains to collaborate with NGOs and governments on tackling marine plastic pollution. Partnerships have been launched in Vietnam, Indonesia and Ghana.