Protection of Rivers (from Plastic)

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. I am pleased that in the 25 Year Plan the Government has pledged to leave our environment in a better condition for the next generation.

The UK has banned the manufacture of microbeads, which came into force in January 2018. The Government is aware of the damage these plastic microbeads have on marine life, but with this ban the UK can help stop billions of microbeads entering the ocean 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 5p charge in 2015.

However, I acknowledge we still have a lot of work to do to protect our rivers and seas. For example, worldwide, around 8.5 Billion plastic straws are thrown away each year, contributing to 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans. In England, it is estimated that 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds are used annually. 

I am pleased to say, following a recent Government consultation, 80% of responses back a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws, 90% support a ban on drinks stirrers and 89% a ban on cotton buds and they will all be banned from 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 just one 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.