Resource Use

Avoidable single-use plastics to be phased out of the Houses of Parliament by 2019

In a bid to reduce its plastic footprint, the UK Parliament has announced a series of measures aiming to ‘virtually eliminate single-use avoidable plastics’ from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords by 2019.

Announced yesterday (15 May), the ‘holistically-designed approach’ aims to improve sustainability and minimise single-use plastic consumption across the Parliamentary Estate. In 2017, Parliament disposed of 735,000 disposable cups and 416,000 plastic lids, 23,750 straws, 330,000 condiment sachets, 125,000 plastic water bottles and 750,000 pieces of plastic cutlery, demonstrating the scale of the Estate’s plastic problem.Avoidable single-use plastics to be phased out of the Houses of Parliament by 2019

The government has honed in on the issue of single-use plastics and has pushed it to the forefront of the UK’s environmental policy, with the 25 Year Environment Plan committing the UK to eliminating all ‘avoidable’ plastic waste by 2042.

Following requests from individual MPs and recommendations made to all public-sector bodies in two reports by Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) – ‘Plastic Bottles: Turning back the plastic tide’ and ’Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups’ – the House of Commons and House of Lords reviewed the sustainability and environmental management of single-use disposable plastics. 

The resulting proposals to cut down the use of single-use plastics were agreed by the House of Commons Administration Committee in March 2018 and House of Lords Services Committee in April, then endorsed by the House of Commons Commission on 14 May 2018. More than 160 MPs have signed a ‘plastic-free Parliament’ pledge indicating their desire to see the consumption of single-use plastics seriously curtailed.

The full list of measures to be implemented are as follows:

  • Eliminate sales of water in plastic bottles;
  • Introduce a 25 pence additional cost on hot drinks purchased in disposable cups (for a trial period);
  • Sell reusable drinks cups to encourage behaviour change away from single-use disposables;
  • Incentivise use of reusable cups through additional loyalty rewards in the House of Commons and continued discounts in the House of Lords;
  • Introduce fixed condiment sauce dispensers in the House of Commons (the House of Lords has already discontinued individual condiment sachets);
  • Substitute disposable catering items (including plastic-lined coffee cups) with compostable alternatives and introduce a compostable waste stream (including the purchase of 800 additional bins);
  • Replace plastic drinks tumblers with compostable cups across both Houses;
  • Replace plastic carrier bags with paper ones in retail outlets;
  • Implement a ‘green stationery’ catalogue;
  • Produce procedures for incorporating the environmental impact of packaging into the weighting of relevant procurement and tender exercises; and
  • Pilot a reusable packaging ‘totes’ scheme for deliveries.

Commenting on the announcement, Sir Paul Beresford MP, Chair of the Commons Administration Committee, which recommended the proposals for the House of Commons, stated: “I am delighted to unveil the pioneering steps that we are taking to tackle single-use avoidable plastics in Parliament. The measures we are introducing are ambitious and wide-ranging, covering not just coffee cups but an array of items from plastic bottles and straws to condiment sachets and stationery.

“Our aim is to remove, as far as possible, disposable plastic items from the Parliamentary Estate. Our challenging targets reflect Parliament’s commitment to leading the way in environmental sustainability. I am looking forward to tracking our progress over the next 12 months as these changes are implemented, and will be proudly drinking my coffee from a House of Commons reusable cup.”

Lord Laming, Chair of the House of Lords Services Committee, which agreed the proposals for the House of Lords, added: “Parliament has acknowledged the damaging effect single-use disposable plastic is having on the environment and that it must lead the way in valuing our environmental future over convenience.

“This review has taken a holistic approach to plastic reduction, considering everything from disposable cutlery to packaging. The House of Lords has already substituted plastic straws with compostable paper ones, and eliminated plastic condiment sachets; I am delighted that Parliament will now be going much further to reduce the impact we make on the environment.

“We all have a responsibility in this so it’s time to really start to think about the steps everyone can take to reduce their plastic use... I hope that the measures Parliament will implement over the next 12 months will inspire other organisations and people to make changes in their everyday lives.”

Meanwhile, Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the EAC, while happy to see action taken on the Parliamentary Estate, called on the government to move forward with a wider implementation of the measures across the country.

“This is an important first step to creating the world’s first plastic-free Parliament,” she commented, adding: "Parliament’s action stands in stark contrast to ministers who consult, announce and re-announce, but never seem to do anything to turn back the plastic tide. The government should follow Parliament’s lead and introduce a ‘latte levy’ for coffee cups, a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, and make sure that those who produce the packaging pay to recycle it.”

Related Articles