Plastic pollution is a scourge on the environment – there is no doubt. Unless action is taken, I am aware there will be a three-fold increase in the amount of plastic flowing into the ocean by 2040.
I welcome, therefore, that the Environment Secretary has been engaging with businesses, environmental groups, scientists and civil society on shaping a legally binding global treaty that aims to end plastic pollution by 2040. This treaty would set obligations on countries to reduce pollution across the whole plastics lifecycle, from production & consumption to disposal & waste management.
At the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), which the UK attended along with over 160 countries, we continued to push for transformative action to tackle plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.
The UK is currently a world leader in tackling plastic pollution and the Government has made significant progress relating to plastic pollution though its 25 Year Environment Plan’s ambition to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste.
Details on how this will be achieved are set out in The Resources & Waste Strategy plans to reduce, reuse and recycle more plastic, and Ministers have committed to work towards all plastic packaging on the market being recyclable or reusable by 2025.
I am pleased to note that a range of single use plastics, including plastic plates, trays, bowls, cutlery, balloon sticks and certain types of polystyrene cups & food containers will be banned later this year to go alongside microbeads and the restricted use of plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds. The use of single use carrier bags in supermarkets has reduced by over 97%.
Ministers are also considering further measures around other commonly littered, and problematic, plastic items including wet wipes, tobacco filters & sachets.
However, we are very clear that we want to ensure that the targets take a holistic approach to all materials to avoid unintended substitution effects which may prove to be equally, or more, harmful.
Regarding waste, whether exported or dealt with domestically, we are working to drive up standards.
Ministers have committed to banning the export of plastic waste to countries unless they are members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) which ensures it will be recycled to UK equivalent standards. The Environment Agency (EA) regulates the export of waste, carrying out pro-active and intelligence led inspections, and I am assured that any UK operator in breach of regulations can face a two-year jail term and an unlimited fine.
Finally, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has been modernising existing waste record keeping, strengthening regulations and increasing background checks, allowing regulators to better detect illegal activity and tackle waste crime, including fly-tipping, illegal waste sites and illegal waste exports as well as making it easier to take action against non-compliant operators.
I hope this helps to reassure constituents that we are taking the issue of plastic waste seriously.