The Resources and Waste strategy, published last year, sets out plans to reduce plastic pollution with a target of eliminating all avoidable waste over the lifetime of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. The majority of aquatic litter originates from land based sources therefore I believe the best approach to stemming the flow of plastic is by taking action on land.
The UK’s world-leading ban on microbeads will help stop potentially billions of tiny pieces of plastic from entering the aquatic environment every year. As well as this, 15.6 billion fewer bags have been handed out to shoppers by the seven main retailers since the introduction of the plastic bag charge in 2015. I am also pleased that following an open consultation, a ban on the supply of plastic straws – excluding those needed for medical purposes - drinks stirrers and cotton buds will come into force in April next year.
Ministers have also consulted on a number of key policy measures which will significantly change the way we manage our waste. These include: reforming existing packaging waste regulations; exploring the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers; and increasing consistency in the recycling system; with a parallel consultation on the ‘Plastic Packaging Tax’ which the Chancellor announced in the Budget last year. The responses to these consultations will be published in due course.
On the Environment Bill, draft clauses on environmental principles and governance have now been published. I am encouraged that these clauses are only part of a broader Bill, which will include legislative measures to take direct action to address the biggest environmental priorities of our age: air quality, nature recovery, waste and resource efficiency, and water resource management.
Achieving Net Zero
While I appreciate concerns, the assessment of the independent Committee on Climate Change has concluded that this target is feasible, deliverable and can be met within the same cost as was estimated for our previous target of 80 per cent which was set back in 2008, such has been the power of innovation in reducing costs.
That is not to mention that the actual impact could be partially or completely off-set by wider benefits such as better health through reduced air pollution, improved efficiencies across the economy and the creation of green collar jobs and clean growth. We can also reduce the risks of catastrophic and costly climate change driven impacts like flooding.
However, it is right that we should look carefully at how these costs are distributed in the longer-term. That is why the Government is accepting the recommendation of the Committee for the Treasury to lead a review into the costs of decarbonisation. This will consider how to achieve the transition to net zero in a way that works for households, businesses and public finances. It will also consider the implications for UK competitiveness.
Ultimately, in fulfilling the scale of the commitment, we will need technological and logistical changes in the way we use our land and to seize the opportunity to support investment in a range of new technologies, including in areas such as carbon capture, usage and storage, hydrogen and bioenergy. The foundations for these step changes are already in place, including in the Industrial Strategy and the Clean Growth Strategy, and the UK has already shown real results in terms of boosting investment in renewables, reducing emissions and maintaining energy security.
Last updated October 2019