LONDON — The U.K. will be a global leader against the “scourge” of plastic pollution, Theresa May will promise in a speech on the environment Thursday.
The prime minister will set out a series of policy measures aimed at curbing plastic waste that will form part of the government’s 25-year Environment Plan, published the same day. Environment Secretary and leading Brexiteer Michael Gove has promised a “Green Brexit” once the U.K. leaves the EU.
“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,” May will say, according to a pre-released segment of the speech. “In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly.”
In the U.K. alone, she will say, the amount of single-use plastic dumped each year would fill the Royal Albert Hall thousands of times over.
“Today I can confirm that the U.K. will demonstrate global leadership. We must reduce the demand for plastic, reduce the number of plastics in circulation and improve our recycling rates,” she will say.
Many of the measures due to be included in the speech have either already been formally announced by ministers or were briefed to the media ahead of the speech.
Measures already mooted include extending a 5 pence charge on plastic carrier bags to small retailers — so bringing England in line with Wales and Scotland — and consulting on a tax or a charge on single-use plastic products such as takeaway food containers, as announced in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s autumn budget speech.
The government will also pledge to eliminate all “avoidable plastic waste” by 2042 — bringing forward by eight years a 2050 target laid out in its Clean Growth Strategy for all avoidable waste. Ministers will come up with a detailed strategy on waste and resources later this year.
Other measures include unspecified new funding for plastics innovation, directing U.K. aid money at helping developing countries tackle plastic waste and working with supermarkets “to encourage them to introduce plastic-free aisles in which all the food is loose.”
“I want the Britain of the future to be a truly global Britain, which is a force for good in the world. Steadfast in upholding our values – not least our fierce commitment to protecting the natural environment,” she will say. To that end she committed to put sustainable development on the agenda at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to be hosted by the U.K. in April.
But a group of cross-party MPs who support the Open Britain campaign — Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Ed Davey, former energy and climate change secretary, and Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party — argue that Brexit will reduce the U.K.’s green leadership role and lead to a “tsunami of deregulation” that will harm the environment.
“The U.K. played a pivotal role in driving forward the EU’s climate change agenda. Working within the EU – as a block of 28 countries – amplified the U.K.’s influence and ability to secure a robust global agreement at the Paris climate change conference in 2015,” they wrote. “There is no such thing as a ‘green Brexit.’ In fact, when it comes to managing the growing stresses on the environment, Brexit poses a greater challenge than any other political development that has taken place in our lifetime.”