The UK government has unveiled a national action plan to eradicate avoidable plastic waste by 2042. The announcement aims to quell concerns of critics regarding the potential negative impacts Brexit could have on the UK’s sustainability performance.
The plan outlines actions the government will take over the next 25 years to address the issue, such as extending a 5p charge for single-use plastic bags to all retailers, encouraging supermarkets to create plastic-free aisles and introducing a tax system for single-use plastic packaging, such as polystyrene takeaway boxes. The government also said it plans to filter more funds towards research and development for plastics innovation.
The complications of Brexit have put the government under considerable pressure from both the opposition Labour Party and the public. Prime Minister Theresa May and Conservatives are hoping that the new environmental agenda will help put public support back in their corner. Under environmental minister Michael Gove, the government has already rolled out legislation banning microbeads and restricting pesticides that threaten bee health.
“As we leave the European Union, which for decades has controlled some of the most important levers in environmental policy, now is the right time to put the question of how we project and enhance our natural environment center stage,” May said during her speech.
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While the government was applauded for setting out long-term goals, introducing metrics to monitor performance and taking a definitive stance on the key role sustainability plays in positioning the UK for the future, critics described the plan as vague and decried Conservatives for not going far enough. The plan’s omission of a proposal for a plastic bottle deposit scheme — a concept that has been recognized for its ability to drive up recycling rates and support the circular economy — in particular, was a point of contention, one which critics labeled as a missed opportunity.
“This was a landmark speech, the first prime ministerial speech on the environment in 17 years. There was much to welcome, particularly Theresa May’s determination to be a world leader in protecting the environment, the commitment to set up a strong new environmental watchdog and the promise of action on plastics pollution,” said Shaun Spiers, Executive Director at Green Alliance.
“Inevitably, questions remain. While the ambition and sense of direction of the 25 Year Environment Plan launched today are admirable, it is less clear how all its good intentions will be put into effect. That makes it all the more essential that the government introduces a new Environment Act to underpin its ambitions. We hope to see a commitment to a new Act in the near future.”
Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth said the plan failed to address the need to focus on the short-term as well, a critical step in setting the stage for longer-term solutions. “It’s time to stop tinkering at the margins and get to the heart of the problems — especially the nation’s fossil fuels addition. Ministers must pull the plug on coal, gas and oil, end its support for fracking and develop the UK’s huge renewable power potential,” Bennett said.
For Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, May and the Conservatives’ plan only begins to scratch the surface. “Focusing on only the low-hanging fruits of environmental protection is like treating heart disease with a bypass, without changing your diet or taking up regular exercise. It’s not a serious, sustainable solution for the long term,” she said.
In addition to its goal for reducing plastics waste, the new environmental agenda has also laid out targets for water, natural capital, air quality and resource efficiency. In addition, the government has suggested that standardized recycling policies will be included in the plan.