Plastic trash on a beach

The Marine Conservation Society said it found found 718 pieces of litter for every 100-metre stretch of beach surveyed in its last Great British Beach Clean Up campaign

Supermarkets will be encouraged to introduce plastic-free aisles as part of a move to prevent billions of tonnes of waste packaging ending up in the oceans.

The recommendation, which proposes aisles without any plastic packaging, where all food is sold loose, is one of a number outlined by Theresa May today as she sets out steps to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042.

Other proposals in the 25-year environmental plan include extending the 5p carrier bag charge to retailers with fewer than 250 workers in England and introducing a tax on takeaway containers.

An estimated 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s and research suggests this figure could to jump to 34 billion tonnes by 2050 unless urgent action is taken to cut demand.

In the UK alone, the Marine Conservation Society found 718 pieces of litter for every 100-metre stretch of beach surveyed in its Great British Beach Clean Up. Of this, rubbish from food and drink made up at least one fifth.

The prime minister described plastic waste as “truly one of the great environmental scourges of our time”.

“In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly. In the UK alone, the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls.

“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. One million birds, and over 100,000 other sea mammals and turtles, die every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste. One in three fish caught in the English Channel contains pieces of plastic.”

Speaking about the plastic bag levy, Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, added: “Single-use plastics are devastating our natural environment, whether they are beads, bags or bottles. The small shop exemption was introduced by the government against the wishes of retailers. Its abolition is long overdue. The more comprehensive the plastic bag charge is, the more effective it will be.”