Theresa May announces new plastics strategy

Theresa May © Arno Mikkor (EU2017EE)
Theresa May © Arno Mikkor (EU2017EE)

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has announced an environmental plan which will aim to put an end to all avoidable plastic waste within the next 25 years.

The strategies in the new proposal include extending a £0.05 (~€0.06) levy on plastic bags to apply to more shops, and gathering evidence on a potential fee on single-use plastic food containers, such as takeaway boxes. The latter measure could also include a charge on plastic cups, which was proposed by MPs last week.

Along with new taxes on plastic products, the proposal includes plans to encourage more loose food to be sold in supermarkets, including aisles without any plastic packaging.
These efforts are being made to significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste in the UK, which May has called “one of the great environmental scourges of our time”. As Emily Haggett of Surfers Against Sewage told Government Europa Quarterly, “roughly 8-12 million tonnes of plastic pollution enter our marine environment each year”.

Along with its 25 year environmental strategy for the UK, May’s announcement contained a proposal to urge Commonwealth member states to adopt a charter which will reduce the amount of plastic waste in oceans, with further information on this to be announced at a summit in April.

“A global gold standard”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, UK Secretary of State for Environment Michael Gove said that the plan would complement the government’s current efforts, and that good progress has already been made: “No one could say that during the period that I’ve been at the environment department that we have been sloths or slouches. We have been taking action in a wide variety of areas in order to make sure that we enhance our environment.”

The announcement of the proposal follows concerns that the UK will be forced to loosen its environmental regulations in order to strike favourable trade deals following Brexit. However, Gove dismissed these fears: “I’ve already said that we want to set the global gold standard when it comes to the environment, and for animal welfare.”

“A truly significant moment”

While there has been some criticism of May’s proposals from organisations such as Greenpeace – which felt that the initiatives were not comprehensive enough – the announcement has been welcomed by many environmental groups.

The Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG), Kew is a world-leading organisation dedicated to understanding how biodiversity benefits humans, and investing in, protecting and enhancing the environment. RBG Kew’s director of science, Professor Kathy Willis, called the plan “a truly significant moment for the environment”.

“[The proposals] could lead to a transformation in the way we think about the world around us,” she added. “Instead of focusing on land use for farming or industry, treating the environment as a resource to be exploited, it becomes an asset in be invested in and enhanced for everyone’s benefit.”

RBG Kew’s director, Richard Deverell, added that the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew would be committed to making Theresa May’s plan into a reality.

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