UK’s May declares war on plastic with a 25-year plan

By BLOOMBERG

LONDON • UK Prime Minister Theresa May declared war on plastics, outlining a plan to eliminate “avoidable” waste by 2042, including proposals for new taxes and funding for sustainable alternatives.

The amount of single-use plastic waste generated by Britons every year is enough to fill the Albert Hall, a London concert venue, a thousand times over, May said in a speech yesterday at the London Wetlands Centre.

Her plan includes proposals to extend a tax on plastic bags to small retailers and to encourage plastic-free aisles in supermarkets.

“This truly is one of the great environmental scourges of our time,” May said in her first major speech of the year.

She also said that all European Union environmental regulations will be enshrined in UK law as the country leaves the bloc: “Brexit will not mean a lowering of environmental standards.”

May’s Conservative Party is trying to burnish its environmental credentials to boost support among younger voters, who came out in high numbers in June’s general election to support the Opposition Labour Party.

The premier was criticised during the campaign for dropping a pledge to ban ivory sales and for backing a vote to overturn a foxhunting ban.

Yesterday, her former head of communications, Katie Perrior wrote in The Times that May’s “enthusiasm for protecting the environment may not be insincere, but it is certainly new”. When Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s predecessor, Andrea Leadsom, was preparing the 25-year strategy, she wrote, she “was told to make the plan as boring as possible”.

Sue Hayman, Labour’s environment spokeswoman, called May’s plan “a cynical attempt at rebranding” for her party.

May, for her part, said that “Conservatism and conservation are natural allies”. Other measures in the strategy include:
• A call for evidence on changing the tax system to add charges for other single-use plastic items.
• Funding for the plastics industry to help develop less damaging products.
• Channelling overseas aid money into projects to reduce plastic use in the developing world.

“In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced,” May said.

The campaign against plastic follows the airing of an episode of BBC television’s “Blue Planet 2” TV show that focused on the damage done by plastic waste in the oceans.

The show is narrated by David Attenborough, a TV naturalist who is regularly described as one of Britain’s most trusted public personalities.

The premier referenced Attenborough in her speech.

“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,” May said. “One in three fish caught in the English Channel contains pieces of plastic.”