Plastic packaging, polystyrene takeaway boxes and other single-use plastics could be taxed to tackle waste, the Government has indicated.
Chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to announce a call for evidence in the Budget on taxing and charging single-use plastics to help prevent pollution in the world’s oceans and to protect the environment.
The move forms part of the Government’s 25-year environment strategy and comes after the introduction of the plastic carrier bag charge and a ban on microbeads.
There are concerns that more than a million birds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles die every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste, the Press Association reported.
It is a danger to wildlife highlighted most recently by Sir David Attenborough ahead of the BBC’s Blue Planet II series, describing the “heartbreaking” sight of an albatross feeding plastic to its young chick instead of fish.
Some 12 million tonnes of waste enter the world’s oceans every year – a rubbish truck every minute – and the problem is so bad vast floating areas of plastic have formed in the world’s seas, including one in the Pacific, the size of France.
It is also a problem closer to home, with the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year in the UK enough to fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls – and one in three fish caught in the English Channel containing pieces of plastic, the Government said.
The move to tackle the problem of single-use plastics, which include packaging and bubble wrap, and polystyrene takeaway boxes, has been welcomed by environmental campaigners.
Tisha Brown, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “Ocean plastic pollution is a global emergency, it is everywhere from the Arctic Ocean at top of the world, to the Marianas Trench at the bottom of the Pacific.
“It’s in whales, turtles and 90% of sea birds, and it’s been found in our salt, our tap water and even our beer.
“The Treasury’s announcement is only a statement of intent, but it recognises the significance of the problem and the urgent need for a solution. There is a long way to go, but hopefully this is the beginning of the end for single-use plastic.”
Dr Mike Barrett, WWF director of science and policy, said: “Too often birds, fish, turtles and whales are found dead having eaten plastic. Plastic is suffocating our seas. There is no greater example of the havoc we have on the natural world. Any action to tackle single-use plastic is a good thing, but we must ensure any action is truly ambitious if we want to make the real difference needed to help save the planet.”
And Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth chief executive, pointed to the popularity of the plastic bag charge and said moves to introduce something similar for throw-away plastic items would be good news.
“With our marine life choking on plastic, and our rivers and waterways polluted, the Government should also introduce measures to phase out these items entirely.”
He called for investment in scientific efforts to find alternatives, a timeline for banning single-use items and for government contracts to avoid polluting plastic.
A petition on Change.org has so far attracted almost 100,000 signatures, calling for a charge similar to the plastic bag tax.
Fewer than one in every 400 disposable coffees cups in the UK are currently recycled, even when actually put in recycling bins.
The plastic bag charge, introduced in England in 2015, proved incredibly successful with usage plummeting 85% in the year since it was brought in.