Whitehall ban on plastic cutlery features in May's 25-year ‘green Brexit’ vision

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs strategy includes Whitehall ban on “single use” plastic forks, straws and bottles

Prime minister Theresa May. Credit: PA

By Jim.Dunton

11 Jan 2018

Prime minister Theresa May and environment secretary Michael Gove have unveiled a “green Brexit” strategy that aims to significantly reduce pollution and aid natural resources over the next 25 years.

The wide-ranging government strategy includes a Whitehall-led crackdown on the officially-sanctioned use of disposable plastic goods, such as knives, forks, and straws – underpinning a nationwide target to “eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042”.

Officially titled A Green Future: Our 25-year Plan to Improve the Environment, the 150-page strategy’s executive summary says the plan “looks forward to delivering a green Brexit”, and elaborates on some of the post-EU-membership agriculture policies mooted by Gove last week.


Launching the document, May put particular focus on strategies to reduce plastic-related waste – saying 8.3bn tonnes had been produced since the 1950s, with the figure likely to rise to 34bn tonnes by 2050.

Core plastics strategies outlined in the document involve promoting more efficient use of resources through better reuse, remanufacturing and recycling – combined with efforts to reduce consumption of disposable plastic products.

It said the 5p plastic-bag charge introduced for large retailers two years ago would be extended to small operators, while officials, supermarkets and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) would also look at the introduction of plastics-free aisles in supermarkets where only unpackaged products would be available.

The document said Whitehall and its agencies would lead the way in efforts to reduce the use of disposable plastic items by “removing all consumer single-use plastics from the central government estate offices”. It did not give a timescale for the measure.

Other strategies to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics include the promotion of free water bottle refill points across the nation to minimise the volume of plastic water bottles that are thrown away.

May said the measures outlined in the strategy demonstrated the “global leadership” role on the environment the UK was keen to take.

“We must reduce the demand for plastic, reduce the number of plastics in circulation and improve our recycling rates,” she said.

“To tackle it we will take action at every stage of the production and consumption of plastic.”

Elsewhere the document proposes the creation of a “national tree champion” to promote the social, economic and environmental benefits of trees and forests, and coordinate a “step change” in tree planting.

It also proposes a consultation on setting up a new independent body to hold government to account on the environment and a new set of environmental principles to underpin policymaking.

Gove said the proposals signposted the government’s emerging “natural capital” approach to the environment.

Craig Bennett, chief executive officer of environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth, said the strategy was weak on curbing the nation’s fossil fuel consumption.

“A long-term vision for protecting our environment is essential, but the government can’t keep turning a blind eye to the urgent action needed now to protect our health and planet from toxic air and climate-wrecking pollution,” he said.

“It’s time to stop tinkering at the margins and get to the heart of the problems - especially the nation’s fossil fuels addiction. Ministers must pull the plug on coal, gas and oil, end its support for fracking and develop the UK’s huge renewable power potential.

“Twenty-five years is a long way off – particularly for a government that might not last 25 weeks. We need action now.”

The organisation also questioned why such a 25-year timescale was necessary for eliminating “avoidable” plastic waste.

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