Government proposals to tackle plastic waste show 'a lack of real urgency'
Shadow Environment Minister Holly Lynch gives her response to the Government's 25 year plan for the environment and how it seeks to reduce plastic waste. She argues that 'if we are to get serious about tackling plastic waste we need action soon, and we need to be much more ambitious'.
Last September I wrote for PoliticsHome about the campaign by Labour’s Shadow Environment team asking bars and restaurants to ditch drinking straws. I wrote to the top chains to urge them to adopt a straws on request policy, so they could play their part in reducing the plastic waste which litters our seas and oceans. At that point, I could never have predicted that five months on, plastic waste would be one of the country’s top political priorities.
Thanks in large part to the shocking scenes in Blue Planet 2, and Sir David Attenborough’s passionate call for action, politicians, consumers and businesses are now taking single use plastic waste seriously. This is seen particularly clearly around straws with Costa, Wetherspoons, Wagamama and Pizza Express all recently pledging to go straw free.
The need for action could not be clearer when globally over 500 million straws are thrown away every single day and almost none are recycled. There are an estimated 5 trillion plastic pieces afloat at sea, and birds and sea life all suffer from ingesting plastic. It’s clear that we need to stop the excessive consumption of single use plastics before it’s too late.
Given the public desire for progress around plastics, the Government raised expectations with the announcement of their 25 year plan for the environment. It was billed as a strategic vision for tackling plastic waste.
So it was disappointing that its final proposals were so modest and showed such . Aiming to end all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 sets a deadline which will fall long past Theresa May’s time as Prime Minister, and result in many more years of plastic pollution.
Britain has an opportunity to be a global leader in environmental protection which means we need concrete proposals as soon as possible, not just the Government’s current rhetoric which is far more ambition than their action.
Labour is committed to reducing plastic usage and is pushing the Government to bring forward tough new initiatives. We supported the idea of a plastic bottle return scheme in our last manifesto and we would look to implement this as soon as possible.
Earlier this week I met with Costa Coffee who are rewarding customers who bring their own reusable cups with a 25p discount and this is exactly the kind of practice we welcome. Contrary to the notion that ‘taxes’, and financial incentives and disincentives like these, are unfair on low income households, this type of scheme demonstrates that we can be responsible in the way we use plastics, as well as passing on a cost saving to the customer.
It was fitting that Theresa May chose to launch her 25 year plan for the Environment at the London Wetland Centre, where could be better to kick big environmental challenges into the long grass? Yet if we are to get serious about tackling plastic waste we need action soon, and we need to be much more ambitious.
Holly Lynch is the Labour Member of Parliament for Halifax, and is the Shadow Minister for Environment
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