EXCL New Environment Secretary told to 'make good' on Michael Gove's war on plastic amid ocean ‘emergency’

Posted On: 
21st August 2019

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers has been urged not to "go cold" on Michael Gove's promise to crack down on firms who help to litter the oceans with plastic.

Defra has vowed to bring in a “polluter pays” policy by 2023 in a bid to make plastic producers cough up for recycling.
Credit: 
PA

MPs and campaigners are calling on the recently-appointed Cabinet minister to show the same “vision” on slashing single-use plastics as her predecessor.

They are urging Ms Villiers to speed up new laws that would force companies to foot the bill for their waste - and have urged the department to go further than an existing pledge to ban plastic straws and stirrers.

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Labour's Anna McMorrin - who sits on Parliament's cross-party Environmental Audit Committee - has this week written to Ms Villiers urging her to honour Mr Gove’s final speech as Environment Secretary, where he promised to make producers “responsible for 100% of the net cost incurred in dealing with their waste”.

The Government estimates that producers foot just 10% of the current cost of disposing of the waste they create, with much of the burden falling on consumers and taxpayers.  

It has promised to bring in a “polluter pays” policy by 2023, and replace a system that it says “does not sufficiently incentivise” manufacturers to focus on making their goods reusable and recyclable.

But Ms McMorrin told PoliticsHome that the UK was now staring down the “business end of the climate change crisis” - as she called on Ms Villiers to adopt her own bill aimed at combating the problem.

“Every decision the Government makes right now will have lasting consequences for generations to come,” she said.

"Whilst reducing the consumption of single-use plastics is not the cure all solution to solving the climate crisis, it will play a major role in tackling the climate emergency and reducing the amount of plastic polluting our oceans, rivers and food.”

The Labour MP said her own law, which aims to beef up Defra’s powers to force plastic producers to “assume responsibility for the collection, transportation, recycling, disposal, treatment and recovery” of waste - would ensure Mr Gove’s pledges were “kept, for the future of our children and our planet”.

In her letter to the new Environment Secretary, Ms McMorrin meanwhile called for a face-to-face meeting with Ms Villiers, and demanded an update on Defra’s plans to “reform producer responsibility obligations” for companies pumping out plastic waste.

'STEPPING UP'

Ms McMorrin's call has already been backed by the Green Party, with deputy leader Amelia Womack telling PoliticsHome: "We cannot rely solely on individuals to take care of our planet, we need companies, business and the Government more in general to change and become environmentally-friendly to ensure that consumers aren’t forced to use environmentally damaging plastics.” 

She added: “We have seen individuals stepping up to the requirements of a climate emergency and stopping the use of single-use plastics. It is now time that Theresa Villiers and the Government make good on their promises and implement as soon as possible this Bill.” 

The support for the bid came as environmental charity Friends of the Earth urged the new Environment Secretary to go well beyond Mr Gove's high-profile vow to ban plastic cotton buds, straws and stirrers by 2020.

The charity, which is backing a separate anti-plastics Commons bill launched Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael, told PoliticsHome that Defra's current plans were "far too weak" to combat the "blight" of plastic pollution in the world's oceans.

The group's political campaigner Carrie Hume said: "Ministers mustn’t go cold on Michael Gove’s warm words on plastic pollution.

"Addressing the harm our throwaway society causes is crucial – and new legislation to ensure that manufacturers and retailers take full responsibility for the products and packaging they make and sell is urgently needed." 

While charity made clear it supports the "principle" of Ms McMorrin's bill, it said only tough laws to "phase-out" the wider use of "unnecessary" plastic would be enough to prove that ministers "really want to get to grips with the scourge of plastic pollution".

“Current government plans, with their focus predominantly on recycling, are far too weak," Ms Hume said.

"Bold measures are needed to turn tide of plastic pollution that blights our environment and harms our wildlife.” 

A Defra spokesperson said: "The Government’s landmark Resources and Waste Strategy sets out how we will go further and faster to reduce, reuse, and recycle, and help leave the environment in a better state than we found it for future generations. 

"We intend to introduce an extended producer responsibility scheme in 2023, following a consultation earlier this year. This will ensure that the full net costs of managing and recycling packaging waste are funded by industry, encouraging sustainable design and reducing unnecessary packaging."

The calls came amid fresh signs that the public is ncreasingly concerned about the state of the environment.

A new YouGov poll for the Evening Standard revealed that 85% of those asked now say they are "concerned about climate change" - up from 67% in 2014.