Environmental organisations call on UK Government to ban polluting plastics

An alliance of environmental organisations has today (20 July) warned that the UK is falling behind the rest of Europe in tackling plastic pollution.

In an open letter to Environment Minister Rebecca Pow, 21 organisations including Greenpeace, City to Sea, Keep Britain Tidy, and Friends of the Earth subsequently urged the UK Government to match the ban of items outlined in Article 5 of the EU Single-Use Directive, at the very least.

Plastic cup on beachEarlier this month, the Directive, which will see the most polluting single-use plastic banned, was scheduled to be incorporated into national law and applied across all EU countries.

Despite claims to be world-leading on the plastic pollution problem, the UK Government has so far chosen not to legislate the same bans, whilst being the only European country in the top 10 plastic polluters.

The UK Government has legislated to ban straws, stirrers, and cotton buds, which fall under the bans outlined in the Directive, but has yet to legislate for the banning of plastic cutlery, plates, sticks attached to balloons, or food containers made of expanded polystyrene and products made from oxo-degradable plastics.

The open letter states that the “government is not only failing to take the lead on tackling plastics, but is falling behind our European neighbours and devolved nations within the UK”.

Devolved governments have proposed a variety of approaches to single-use plastic legislation.

In accordance with the Northern Ireland Protocol, the devolved nation must transpose ‘certain articles’ of the directive by 2022, and both Scotland and Wales have proposed bans in their own domestic markets.

In addition to the letter, a public petition urging the UK Government to implement the ban was also launched last week, receiving 50,000 signatures in its first few days.

Packaging from takeaway food and drinks is a huge driver of plastic pollution, with these items most consistently found on beaches around the world.

New research has revealed that food containers and food wrappers are two of the four most widespread plastic items polluting rivers, beaches, and oceans, together with bottles and bags.

Steve Hynd, City to Sea’s Policy Manager, said: “The EU’s Single-Use Directive was established as a minimum standard designed to encourage member states to go further in their efforts to tackle plastic pollution.

“And that is what we are calling for today, the very basic minimum of standards to be met. It’s frankly embarrassing that while other governments are pushing ahead ours is still lagging behind.

“There is, of course, more to be done in tackling plastic pollution and some of this will and should be achieved through the Environment Bill.

“City to Sea have long advocated for the UK to introduce a legally binding target to reduce plastic pollution as part of the Environment Bill.

“Our ask today is so much less than that and I honestly can’t believe that we are still having to make the case for this.

“If the government fails to meet these minimum standards it would be an awful dereliction of their promises to lead on environmental issues post Brexit.”

Nina Schrank, senior campaigner at Greenpeace, added: "Our single-use, throwaway society is causing an environmental catastrophe on a global scale.

“The government claims to be a leader in tackling plastic pollution, yet is falling behind in the most basic of measures. They need to match EU legislation in banning some of the most harmful single-use plastics, at the very least.

“At the same time, businesses and food outlets need to step up and expand the refillable and reusable options that people are calling for.

“Turning away from our disposable culture and embracing reusability is how we can all do our bit to protect the natural world from plastic pollution.”