Green organisations have warned that action needs to be taken now to tackle plastic waste and other threats to the environment, rather than wait a quarter of a century, after the launch of Theresa May’s green plans.
The prime minister hit the headlines with the launch of her paper which lays out the government’s 25-year plan for the environment including tackling the plastic waste crisis polluting the oceans.
She plans to introduce plastic-free aisles for loose food in supermarkets and to eliminate “avoidable” plastic waste within a quarter of a century.
Craig Bennett, CEO at Friends of the Earth, who attended Mrs May’s speech, said: “A long-term vision for protecting our environment is essential, but the government can’t keep turning a blind eye to the urgent action needed now to protect our health and planet from toxic air and climate-wrecking pollution.
“Ministers must pull the plug on coal, gas and oil, end its support for fracking and develop the UK’s huge renewable power potential.
“25 years is a long way off – particularly for a government that might not last 25 weeks. We need action now.”
Mrs May pledged “action at every stage of the production and consumption of plastic”, targeting manufacturers and the supermarkets that sell thousands of products wrapped in single-use plastic.
She also revealed that the government would weigh up whether it was better to encourage more reuse or more recycling of plastic bottles.
Mrs 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.”
John Sauven, Greenpeace UK’s executive director, said: “Britain’s natural environment needs a 25-month emergency plan more than it needs a 25-year vision. If the government’s aim is to get through to young voters, they need to offer change that happens before these youths turn middle age.
“They should start by rolling out more robust and swift measures to stop plastic waste harming our oceans, clean up illegal air pollution and support the clean energy sources that can help stop climate change.
“If Theresa May wants to persuade people this is more than just husky-hugging, she needs to put some joined-up thinking at the heart of her strategy. You can’t claim to care about climate change and our countryside and then back fracking, or care about the next generation and then let air pollution harm our kids’ health.
“The environment is now a mainstream concern in this country, with millions of people caring deeply about it. Theresa May has a unique opportunity to rise to the challenge and make Britain a global leader in environmental protection. She should not waste it.”
Speaking about the plastic pollution in the sea, a spokesperson for the British Plastics Federations said in a statement: “The government’s commitment to provide a higher level of funding for plastics innovation is welcome. However, we are very disturbed that the tone of language used in the speech does not recognise the important benefits that the plastics industry brings to the UK, including 170,000 jobs.
“Plastics themselves save energy. They are low carbon materials, crucial in the fight against climate change. Their light weight and durability cuts fuel consumption in vehicles and aircraft and reduces pollution. By encouraging plastic-free aisles, the government is creating an impression that the use of plastics is inherently wrong.
“Plastics should not be in the sea and it is right that the UK, alongside other developed nations, should set an example of best practice.
“To stop plastics entering the sea from the West, the plastics industry would like to see a tougher stance on littering. It should be noted that the types of products that enter the marine environment from the UK tend to be those that have been irresponsibly littered – not packaging materials for fresh produce that are typically consumed at home and then disposed of responsibly.
“We look forward to working with government to help the UK progress towards a truly circular economy by helping to reduce littering, significantly increasing recycling infrastructure, ensuring all packaging used for food and drink consumed ‘on the go’ is captured for recycling.”