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UK vows to eliminate its plastic waste by 2042

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Theresa May will commit the UK to eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 as she launches the Government’s environmental plan for the next 25-years, reported The Independent (UK).

Under the pledge waste such as the carrier bags, food packaging and disposable plastic straws that litter the country and pollute the seas would be abolished.

But the target was given a frosty reception from environmental groups with one leading organisation saying it “lacks urgency, detail and bite”, while another said the country “can’t afford to wait” so long.

The broader 25-year plan, first promised three years ago, will also urge supermarkets to set up “plastic-free aisles” for goods with no packaging and confirm plans to extend the 5p charge for carrier bags to all English retailers.

It comes as the Government seeks to burnish its environmental credentials with recent pledges on animal protection and plastic microbeads.

But with concern growing around plastic waste, Ms May will say: “We look back in horror at some of the damage done to our environment in the past and wonder how anyone could have thought that, for example, dumping toxic chemicals, untreated, into rivers was ever the right thing to do.

“In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly.

“In the UK alone, the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls.”

She will say the 2042 pledge to eliminate avoidable plastic waste – that which it is “technologically, environmentally and economically practical” to do so – will be met through a string of measures.

The Government will bring England into line with other devolved nations in extending the 5p carrier bag charge to all retailers.

Officials will work with supermarkets to encourage them to introduce plastic-free aisles in which all the food is loose, allowing shoppers to make environmentally friendly choices.

Government will also encourage industry to take more responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products and make them easier to recycle.

The PM will also task civil servants to look at how the tax system or charges could further reduce the amount of waste, while putting out a call for evidence on reducing the use of single-use plastics.

A £7bn research and development pot will be used to “inject new funding into plastics innovation”.

But environmental groups that have praised some recent policies, pointed to a lack of detail and to the fact that potentially stronger measures such as tax incentives were not more central.

Senior Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK Louise Edge told The Independent: “This announcement was billed as a major push to tackle our plastic problem, but it looks more like a missed opportunity.

“It's good that the Government wants to make tackling plastic waste a priority, but the specific measures announced today don't match the scale of the environmental crisis we face.

“Encouraging more water fountains, extending charges on plastic bags and funding for innovation can all be part of the solution, but the overall plastics plan lacks urgency, detail and bite.”

She argued that the most glaring omission was the lack of support for “deposit return schemes” which see people paid for returning plastic items.

It is estimated that 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s, with research indicating that without urgent action to cut demand this is likely to be 34 billion tonnes by 2050.

In the UK alone, during its recent Great British Beach Clean Up, the Marine Conservation Society found 718 pieces of litter for every 100 metre stretch of beach surveyed, and of this, rubbish from food and drink made up at least one fifth.

Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett said: “A 25 year plan is clearly needed – but with the nation facing an accelerating environmental crisis we can’t afford to wait a quarter of a century for urgent action to tackle the issues that already threaten our lives, health and planet.”

He went on: “If Theresa May wants to champion the environment she must spell out the bold measures her Government will take in the next few weeks and months.”

WWF Chief Executive Tanya Steele welcomed “any step” to reduce plastic waste, adding that plastic-free aisles can spur change.

But she said: “If we really want to solve this problem, we need to think bigger and ultimately move towards an end to single-use plastics.”

Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman said the plan was now “years behind schedule” branding the plan “a cynical attempt at rebranding the Tories image”.

She went on: “[It] appears to contain only weak proposals with Britain’s plastic waste crisis kicked into the long grass.”

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said the Prime Minister had shown a “complete lack of ambition”, adding: “The Conservatives should be eliminating all avoidable plastic waste now – a target of 2042 beggars belief.”

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Reporter: Denes Osvalt
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