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The Government’s aim to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 is far too unambitious

3 min read

Former Lib Dem Lords Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Spokesperson, Baroness Parminter, writes ahead of a debate in the House of Lords on 'the threat to the environment by plastic and the case for improved recycling'.

Sir David Attenborough brought home to millions the effects of plastic pollution. Globally only 9% of the plastics ever produced have been recycled. It threatens our marine wildlife, litters our beautiful countryside and pollutes the air we breathe. The Government has promised a new Resource and Waste Strategy by the end of the year. This will be the test for how committed they are to tackling this massive environmental threat.

Despite support from Environment Secretary Michael Gove, the Chancellor’s Budget last month failed to include a latte levy, something the Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for. This does not help dispel fears that Treasury interference could mean the promised consultation on introducing a single use drinks container deposit return scheme will also fail to appear. Equally, raising the cost and extending to all shops the hugely successful carrier bag levy – a Liberal Democrat policy implemented by the Coalition Government.

For the Government’s Resource & Waste Strategy to make an impact, it must include a wider number of extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes. These require producers to incentivise segregation and return of products or to design products which are easier to repair, reuse, remanufacture or recycle. France already have 14 mandatory EPR schemes including tyres, textiles and mattresses. If the Government wants to be a world leader on the environment, it needs to act before it falls behind.

Encouraging producers to design out waste is crucial to waste prevention. It would also decrease the costs to cash strapped local authorities. In 2017, local authorities in England spent £700 million on waste collecting, sorting and recycling. The balance of responsibility for clearing up our waste products is fundamentally wrong.

Depressingly it looks unlikely we are going to hit our current recycling targets of 50% by 2020. Liberal Democrats demand better. Consumers are hampered by confusing recycling information on packaging and it’s far too easy too mistakenly contaminate recyclates by putting in the wrong kind of waste. The Government must do more. They must work with local authorities and business to have consistent collections and to invest in recycling awareness campaigns, while making to easier for people to recycle. The Government rightly does this for our health with the traffic light system on packaging and the five a day campaign - and there is no reason they should not do it for the health of our planet, on which we depend.  

If we leave the EU, DEFRA will be in direct control of waste and resources policy for the first time in decades. The anticipated Resource & Waste Strategy will show if they are ready to lead the challenge for a truly circular economy and a key test will be targets to drive resource efficiency and investment in new recycling infrastructure. 

I welcome the support given in the Budget to support the greater use of recycled plastics in products and packaging, although I am disappointed that they do not intend to implement it until 2022. Furthermore, the Government’s stated aim to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 is far too unambitious.  And we’ve heard nothing from them about setting targets for large public organisations such as the NHS to reduce their use of plastic and find alternatives.  We need the Government to drive change now across industry, public organisations and incentivising people to make more changes at home.  Only then can they credibly make the case for international action and protect our marine animals and the ecosystems on which we all depend.  

Baroness Parminter is a Liberal Democrat peer

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Read the most recent article written by Baroness Parminter - The UK’s climate policy backtrack is bad for the planet and the economy