Fish and plastic pollution in ocean

Government accused of ‘lacking strategy’ on plastic waste

Image credit: Dreamstime

The government has been accused of failing to develop a strategy to deal with plastic that has escaped rubbish collection and found its way into the environment.

Speaking during a backbench business debate on plastic bottles and coffee cups, Sir Hugo Swire said: “Has she or her committee come to a conclusion as why the government is seemingly so resistant to oxo-biodegradable plastic technology, which was originally invented by Professor Scott at Aston University in the 1970s?”

While plastic can take hundreds of years to break down naturally, oxo-biodegradable plastics break down much faster in the environment limiting their impact to just a few years.

But despite comments by Theresa May in January that all “avoidable” plastic waste will be eliminated in the country over the next 25 years, significant support through policy for the more environmentally friendly plastics has so far not been forthcoming. 

Addressing Labour’s Mary Creagh (Wakefield), Swire said: “Does she like me not believe that the government actually have no strategy to deal with plastic which escapes into the environment already?”

Creagh said the research on it was “not conclusive about how and how fast it breaks down”.

Tory Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) told MPs how on a recent visit to Bangladesh she had seen “waist high” plastic litter along a beach.

Latham suggested: “Wouldn’t it be a good idea, and I have spoken to the Secretary of State for DfID, if we spent some of our aid money paying people as (Ms Creagh) said to clear up this mess, because it is going into the same ocean that we use and everybody else uses.

“And that way we would help them clean up their environment, help their tourism because people would go to a clean beach but they won’t go to the filthy beach.”

Creagh told the Commons that preventing waste from entering the environment would bring social, economic and environmental benefits.

She said: “People are happier if streets and parks are litter free, our economy works better if we make smart use of limited resources and our wildlife is protected if we keep plastic out of the sea.

“When people win, the economy wins and the environment wins.”

Creagh spoke about the benefits of deposit return schemes, and said charities could partner alongside them to find a “valuable new income stream”.

She said: “Twenty years ago most of our waste went to landfill, now we recycle almost half but the recycling rates are stalling and we need a new shot in the arm to bring it back to life.”

Shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman called for an end to “sound bites” as she told MPs more than five billion plastic bottles a year were landfilled in the UK.

She said: “A comprehensive and effective government strategy cannot just rely on righteous indignation and sound bites. We need comprehensive and ambitious reform on waste and recycling.

“Never has this been so urgent as it is now with the UK leaving the EU in only a few months and also as we’ve heard in light of the Chinese ban on dry recycling imports from the UK.

“While we’ve heard numerous promises and press releases, not one piece of primary legislation has been brought forward by Defra to date.”

Hayman concluded by telling ministers the Commons was “united in recognising the need for action”.

Agriculture, Fisheries and Food minister George Eustice said the government has an “open mind” about a latte levy, and said incentives can change consumer behaviour.

Eustice added: “We do believe this is a very important issue – our resources and waste strategy will address many of these issues.

“We also have consultations coming up on banning plastic straws, plastic stirrers and cotton buds and a consultation on introducing a deposit return scheme.”

In March members of the public were asked to tag litter on beaches in drone photos in order to develop an AI that can automatically locate coastal detritus to help with clean-up operations. 

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