Government commits to zero ‘avoidable’ plastic waste by 2042 in 25 Year Environment Plan

Prime Minister Theresa May has committed the UK to eliminating avoidable plastic waste by 2042 as she revealed the long-awaited 25 Year Environment Plan on Thursday (11 January).

In a speech delivered at the West London Wetlands Centre, May outlined her government’s long-term plans for safeguarding the environment, placing a specific emphasis on plastic waste, while also addressing issues such as the transposition of EU environmental law into UK law, the creation of a new UK statutory environmental protection body (although detail on this was absent in the Plan), air quality, restoring woodlands and ensuring access to green spaces for young people.

The scourge of mishandled plastic waste on the environment has been catapulted to the forefront of public consciousness in recent times, thanks in large part to David Attenborough’s BBC series Blue Planet II, which brought the issue into stark relief, and alarming figures on the amount of plastics entering the marine environment, with an estimated 8-12 million tonnes of plastic entering the oceans every year.

In her speech, May said: “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. This plastic is ingested by dozens of species of marine mammals and over 100 species of sea birds, causing immense suffering to individual creatures and degrading vital habitats. One million birds, and over 100,000 other sea mammals and turtles die every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste. One in three fish caught in the English Channel contains pieces of plastic.

“This truly is one of the great environmental scourges of our time. Today I can confirm that the UK will demonstrate global leadership. We must reduce the demand for plastic, reduce the number of plastics in circulation and improve our recycling rates. To tackle it we will take action at every stage of the production and consumption of plastic.”

Specific actions to tackle plastic waste cover all stages from the production stage through the consumption stage to the end-of-use and end-of-life stages.