Throughout lockdown, our beaches, parks and green spaces have been a source of comfort to so many of us. But all too often we see plastic litter carelessly strewn aside, to the detriment of both wildlife and the natural environment. According to one estimate, approximately 5,000 items of marine plastic pollution have been found per mile of beach in the UK. That is why we are going further to tackle the scourge of single-use plastics blighting our countryside and our oceans.
We’ve made progress in recent years. We banned plastic microbeads in rinse-off personal care products, we introduced a 5p plastic carrier bag charge – which cut plastic bag use by 95% in the major supermarkets – and increased it to 10p alongside an extension to all retailers, and we have banned the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds.
I am determined to see us go further though. That is why we will consult this autumn to ban further single-use plastic items, including single-use plastic plates, cutlery and polystyrene cups. Every year, it is estimated that each person uses a staggering 18 single-use plastic plates and 37 single-use plastic items of cutlery. Plastic cutlery in particular is devastating for turtles and sea birds, often causing fatal internal injuries.
Polystyrene is equally damaging. Largely made up of air, expanded polystyrene can travel a long way – blown along by the wind, or floating on water. Its very structure means it breaks up into pieces easily and all too often is eaten by fish, birds and marine mammals who mistake it for food.
That is why it is so important that we use alternatives, and make good on our commitment to preventing all avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042. Many businesses are already taking action through the UK Plastics Pact, which is a collaboration between businesses, supported by the Government and coordinated by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme). One of the Pact’s targets is to eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign and innovation.
Our Environment Bill, which is currently completing its passage through Parliament, gives us a raft of new powers to make it easier to place charges on single-use plastics that threaten our ecosystems, and reform our waste system to ensure that we can step up our war on plastic pollution and litter.
This year, we have consulted on our proposals for an extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging, where companies will be expected to cover the full cost of recycling and disposing of their packaging, incentivising them to meet higher recycling targets, as well as a deposit return scheme for drinks containers and the introduction of consistent collections of household waste in England. We have also published further guidance on the introduction of a plastic packaging tax on the packaging that does not contain at least 30% recycled content. All these measures will drive up reuse, refill and recycling rates, reduce the amount of plastic waste created and enable us to manage the waste we do generate more effectively.
The measures that we are outlining today will build on the progress that we have already made, as we up the ante in our fight against plastic pollution.