Plastic on UK beach
© joysaphine/Flickr

UK Government's plan for nature fails to deliver

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 11 January 2018

PM Theresa May has revealed her government’s plan to protect the natural environment, which she said her party has always taken very seriously. But will the plans ‘enhance and protect’ the environment, or do they lack immediacy with no mention of coffee cup levies and bottle deposit refund scheme which are vital to #StopthePlasticTide

Theresa May
© WikiCommons

In a speech low on real content but high on what could be described as environmental greenwash, MCS is already questioning if the Government’s 25 year plan may be 25 years too late.

Speaking at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s Centre in Barnes, south west London, Theresa May said the measures in her plan would build on a Conservative heritage of looking after the natural environment.

The Prime Minister kicked off with her commitment to planting millions of trees across the country. She described the fact that one in ten young people don’t spend time in the countryside as a ‘social injustice.’

But although it’s great to hear that she was keen to address these issues, it was the long awaited detail on tackling plastic in our oceans that her speech spectacularly failed to deliver on.

Mrs May said that the single-use plastic wasted every year would fill the Royal Albert Hall 1,000 times over.

“We must reduce the demand for plastic, reduce the number of plastics in circulation and improve our recycling,” said the PM.

Demand for single-use carrier bags as been cut right back at the check-out and we’re using nine billion fewer since the 5p charge said Mrs May. So she announced a sure fire winner – in fact what should have been made law in England in 2015 – extending the 5p single-use carrier bag charge to corner shops and small retailers, which already happens in Wales, NI and Scotland.

This is good news, if three years too late. But it looks like we’ll have to wait for a public consultation to take place and then it may only be on a voluntary basis. If the political will was there, we believe charging could start within weeks.

So demand can be cut by simply putting a value on plastics we are currently happy to throw away. But there was no mention of introducing a deposit refund scheme on drinks containers and nothing about a levy on coffee cups and take-away food containers.

The PM said the 5p charge was a relatively simple policy that had a made a difference to the environment – so why not extend it to other single-use items?

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affair’s (DEFRA) 25 year plan does not cover matters devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, including marine conservation. DEFRA will also need to work closely with the devolved administrations, who will each have their particular policy ambitions.

Dr Chris Tuckett, Head of programmes at the Marine Conservation Society, says: 

“We welcome the overall aims of the plan outlining Defra’s priorities for the next 25 years. However, most of the commitments given have, in truth, been announced previously. We had expected more ambition in the department’s intentions, especially in tackling pollution, and in ensuring that environment laws are strengthened post-Brexit.

Twenty five years is a very long time. We are disappointed by the lack of commitment to take action now to address existing problems. We urgently need to see much more done to stop the tide of plastic entering our oceans, and an aspiration to eliminate “avoidable” plastic waste by 2042 is just not sufficient. In particular, deposit return schemes on containers, and levies on items such as coffee cups, bans on plastic straws are all simple things that could be done immediately without the need for prolonged consultation. Our beach survey data has shown a shocking rise in the amount of litter in our oceans and we urgently need to tackle single-use plastic as a first step.”

Dr Tuckett continues “There is also work to do, very quickly, to apply environmental laws strongly post-Brexit and to implement management measures to protect our seas. Consultation this year on conservation zones for English seas is welcome, but this network will need to be backed up by managament measures that have been largely left out for such sites to date. If the government wants our seas to be in better condition for the next generation, then they must fast-track management of these largely un-protected areas.”

The PM’s 25 year plan lacks ambition, urgency and coherence with no new commitments or concrete actions included in the report.

MCS has almost 25 years’ worth of beach litter data. The data has shaped policy like the 5p carrier bag charges, and shows that plastic bottles, coffee cups, and food on-the-go trays and packaging are washing up on our beaches and choking our seas. Today Theresa May had the opportunity to commit to making more single-use plastic items come at a cost to the consumer.

These would have been simple things to do. Instead, we’re left wondering how our oceans will survive the next 25 years if simple steps are not turned into real strides.

MCS is currently calling on UK governments to put a charge on single-use plastic throwaway items and demanding that big fast food chains stop giving out millions of plastic cups, stirrers, straws and cutlery but instead replace them with reusable or fully compostable alternatives.

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