A draft UK law that would sets a legal framework for ending single-use plastic pollution by 2042 is set for its first reading in the House of Commons later today, having secured the backing of campaign groups and MPs from across the political spectrum.
The Phase-out of Plastic Pollution Bill, proposes a ban on all non-essential single-use plastic items in the UK by 2025, and calls on Environment Secretary Michael Gove to draft a strategy setting out robust policies needed to meet the new phase-out dates.
Its overarching aim is to eradicate plastics pollution from human activity in the UK by 2042.
In support of the goal, the law would establish a new Committee on Plastics Pollution to advise the government on what policies and targets should be included in the strategy, as well as to identify the various impacts of different plastic materials on the environment and monitor progress towards targets.
It is envisaged the new plastic waste body would be modelled on the UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change, which was established in 2008 to advise on how best to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent between 1990 and 2050.
The Bill, which has been drawn up with support from Friends of the Earth and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, is set to be presented to Parliament by Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael this afternoon, with a second reading in Parliament earmarked for 15 March.
Should it become law, it would be the first national legislation aimed at cutting plastic waste, and would see all but the most essential uses of plastic completely phased out in the UK in just over two decades, said Carmichael.
“We have got to get ambitious if we are to reverse the current trend in plastic pollution and to do that we must challenge our throwaway culture,” said the Lib Dem MP. “These are big challenges, which require international solutions. This bill will allow the UK to lead the way in challenging consumer behaviour and eliminating plastic pollution from our seas.”
Labour’s Mary Creagh – chair of the Environmental Audit Committee – as well as Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith and former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP have also thrown their weight behind the draft law.
Other parliamentary backers include Kerry McCarthy, Anna McMorrin and Alex Sobel from Labour; Scott Mann and Matthew Offord from the Conservatives; Lib Dem MP Layla Moran; and Plaid Cymru’s Ben Lake.
The Bill is aimed at building on the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan which already includes an ambition to eliminate “avoidable” plastic waste by 2042, but does not set out a detailed process for achieving that aim.
A host of measures and consultations have been released by the government in recent months, including proposals to tackle on plastic waste from straws, bottles, and microplastics, as the government seeks to develop a wide-ranging policy framework to curb plastic waste and boost recycling rates. Earlier this month the government launched a series of consultations on the proposed introduction of new plastic taxes and increased costs for packaging producers to help fund recycling infrastructure.
But Craig Bennett, chief executive of Friends of the Earth, suggested much more ambition was needed from Defra, bolstered by a legal framework to ensure long term progress, particularly given EU lawmakers are currently drawing up rules to potentially phase out various single use plastics by 2021.
“Recent initiatives from government and companies are certainly welcome, but these are just tiny drops in a vast ocean of plastic waste that’s wrecking our environment and harming our wildlife,” he said. “The UK government showed real global leadership by introducing the world’s first national legislation to cut carbon emissions – it must now do the same with plastic. It’s time to get drastic on plastic and take bold action with a timetabled phase-out of all but the most essential plastics.”
A new YouGov poll of almost 2,000 people commissioned by the green group suggests the proposals set out in the draft plastic waste law would command significant public support.
Nearly nine in 10 voiced backing for significantly reducing plastic waste and pollution within 25 years, with 61 per cent expressing strong support. A further 88 per cent also said they would support a law to ensure manufacturers and retailers phase-out all non-essential single-use plastic by 2025, with 60 per cent offering strong support. And, 89 per cent said they felt manufacturers should do more to cut down on plastic, with 86 per cent arguing retailers and supermarkets should be doing more.
Ann Jones, vice chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, said her members felt passionately about the threat microplastics pose to marine life. “WI members are clear that we need urgent action now from government to tackle the threat that all plastic waste represents to our oceans and wildlife,” she said. “We are supporting the Phase-out of Plastic Pollution Bill to put in place a plan to end this plastic pollution crisis.”
Bills tabled by opposition MPs rarely pass unless the government backs the legislation, but the move will further step up pressure on the government to ensure similar measures, including binding targets, are included in its upcoming Environment Bill.
Responding in a statement, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it agreed there was an “urgent need to cut plastic pollution”.
“Through our 25 Year Environment Plan we have committed to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste,” it said. “We will introduce a world-leading tax to boost recycled content in plastic packaging, make producers foot the bill for handling their packaging waste, and end the confusion over household recycling. These changes will make up a key part of the government’s upcoming Environment Bill, to be introduced early in the second session of Parliament.”