Prime minister’s 25-year environmental plan welcomed but concerns remain

Despite a 25-year environmental plan being launched by Theresa May today in which the prime minister has vowed to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042, environmental groups have been quick to question the government’s urgency and ambition.

Under the broader plan, waste such as the carrier bags, food packaging and disposable plastic straws that litter the country and pollute the seas would be abolished, with supermarkets urged to introduce "plastic-free" aisles while taxes and charges on single-use items such as takeaway containers will be considered. 

In her speech, May said: "I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly. 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 into rivers was ever the right thing to do."

In response to the prime minister’s speech, Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) executive director, Matthew Farrow, said it was “valuable” to hear May herself addressing issues while emphasising how challenges ahead needed “sustained, creative policy development”. 

He added: “Prime ministerial speeches on the environment are an endangered species, so it is very welcome to hear Theresa May emphasise the crucial importance of the environment, the number of green jobs, the interdependence of economic growth and environmental progress, and the scourge of plastic waste. The pledge to show international leadership and to ensure Brexit does not lower green standards is already government policy but it's valuable to hear the PM say it herself. But saying the right thing and taking down a few straw men will only take us so far. Most environmental challenges are hugely complex and require sustained, creative policy development and follow up with business over many years to improve to really improve environmental trends.”

"The concept of 'net environmental gain' is something EIC lobbied for last year. If implemented properly it would rightly challenge the development and infrastructure industries to make the tough choices needed to rebuild our natural capital as we upgrade our infrastructure." 

EIC executive director Matthew Farrow

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. 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.”

The government will also bring England into line with other devolved nations in extending the 5p carrier bag charge to all retailers, with May saying, “the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls.” Furthermore, it’s estimated that 8.3bn tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s, with research indicating that without urgent action to cut demand this is likely to be 34bn tonnes by 2050.

The EIC’s executive director believes commitments to tackling single-use plastic waste could finally provide leadership for an industry which has gone for so long without any. 

Farrow added: “The concept of ‘net environmental gain’ is something EIC lobbied for last year. if implemented properly it would rightly challenge the development and infrastructure industries to make tough choices to ensure we do rebuild our natural capital as we upgrade our infrastructure. The commitments on single use plastic and plastic waste are good and could provide political leadership for a waste and resources industry that has seen little of it for several years. Elsewhere though - for example on air pollution - there was little new. And the enforcement of environmental policy remains a constant worry.”

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