Defra's 25 Year Environment Plan: the industry reacts

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Yesterday prime minister Theresa May outlined her plan to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042. Here is how the industry reacted:

Gavin Partington, director general at the British Soft Drinks Association

“BSDA and its members welcome the launch of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and its commitment to an evidence-based approach to establishing the best way to deal with plastic waste. The ambition is for all our packaging in the UK to be 100% recyclable, that consumers recycle and that drinks containers do not end up as litter in our towns, countryside, rivers and oceans. China’s decision to ban plastic waste imports has further exposed the gaps in the UK’s recycling infrastructure and emphasised the need for a reform of the current compliance system. We believe that by working together with governments, NGOs and other stakeholders, real progress can be achieved to make the UK the world leader in creating a truly circular economy.”

Helen Munday, chief scientific officer, Food & Drink Federation

“We look forward to studying the details of the plan, and hope that it will sit alongside the Industrial Strategy in the creation of a long-term framework in which businesses can operate. It’s pleasing to note that the prime minister remains committed to an evidence-based approach to establishing the best way to deal with plastic waste and will consult widely. The food and drink manufacturing industry has an essential interest in protecting and enhancing the natural environment because of its reliance on a continuous, adequate supply of safe, high-quality raw materials. Our members continue to show industry-leading dedication to sustainability, both individually and through our Ambition 2025, a set of collective environmental ambitions for the industry.

“FDF strongly supports initiatives to reduce waste throughout the food and drink value chain and to increase resource efficiency. We have also been working with our members to better understand and protect natural capital, including the protection of Britain’s countryside.”

Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK

“This announcement was billed as a major push to tackle our plastic problem, but it looks more like a missed opportunity. It’s good that the government wants to make tackling plastic waste a priority, but the specific measures announced today don’t match the scale of the environmental crisis we face. Encouraging more water fountains, extending charges on plastic bags and funding for innovation can all be part of the solution, but the overall plastics plan lacks urgency, detail and bite.

“The most glaring gap is support for deposit return schemes. These are tried and tested ways to keep plastic bottles out of the environment and have strong public backing, yet there’s no trace of them in the government announcement. And with another truckload of plastic waste going into our oceans every minute, we just can’t wait another 25 years before eliminating throwaway plastic.

“Given the strength of public feelings, the government has the support to be far more ambitious. Ministers should use the forthcoming plastic strategy to up their game and stop kicking the plastic bottle down the road. Britain has the potential to become the first country in the world to end throwaway plastic - it’s an opportunity we shouldn’t waste.”

Andrew Opie, director of food policy at the British Retail Consortium

“We welcome this strategic approach and long-term focus. The retail industry wants to see a holistic approach to the environment and resources rather than shifting from single issue to single issue. While plastic pollution needs to be tackled head-on, we need a comprehensive strategy which considers all materials and resources and sets out how the government intends to shift to a circular economy where all resources are valued and reused when possible. A comprehensive approach will ensure that we avoid unintended consequences. For example, packaging plays a key role in the prevention of food waste - another key government priority - with a shrink-wrapped cucumber lasting five times as long as an unwrapped one.

“One element missing from the plan is details on how we improve the waste and recycling infrastructure in the UK and work with local authorities to improve consistency in recycling collections. This is particularly pertinent in light of China’s recent ban on importing recycled waste for processing and we look forward to working with government on this issue in the lead-up to the resources and waste strategy expected later this year.”

On carrier bags:

“We have always supported universal coverage of the England carrier bag charge but the most important thing that government needs to show is leadership in developing a comprehensive strategy to shift to a circular economy.

On plastic-free aisles:

“Retailers are continuing to reduce the amount of packaging and ensure the packaging they do use is recyclable. Although there are plastic-free parts of a supermarket, such as loose, fresh produce, packaging still plays an important role in reducing food waste and has to be seen in the wider context of the total environmental impact of our food supply chain.”

On a call for evidence on a plastics tax:

“A plastics tax begs a number of questions such as the time frame for exploring a tax, what ministers hope to do with the receipts, and the impact on consumers and businesses and we look forward to working with government on these issues. All plastic packaging items are already ‘taxed’ when used under producer responsibility measures. Rather than introduce a second system, the current system could be reformed. Any new tax should have a clear intended outcome. For example, increasing the costs of products is unlikely to result in positive consumer behaviour change.”

On a commitment to help developing nations tackle pollution and reduce plastic waste, including through UK aid:

“Research shows that Asia accounts for more than 80% of the total leakage of plastic into the ocean. Marine plastic pollution by plastic is a global issue and requires globally implemented solutions. The UK and other European nations have a leadership role to play here and we look forward to working with government in this area.”

On innovation:

“Retailers are continually innovating in relation to packaging and recyclability and, investing with their suppliers, are pioneering a number of initiatives that could make a significant difference to the recyclability of packaging and use of recycled material, if workable and adopted at scale. For example, retailers are working to set a minimum recycled content in their milk bottles and have introduced lighter-coloured milk bottle caps to ensure that they are recyclable. The industry is also working to eliminate non-recyclable elements, such as PVC and polystyrene, from their packaging.”

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