Prime Minister Theresa May will pledge to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste within 25 years as she unveils the Government’s long-term plan for the environment.
Supermarkets will be urged to introduce “plastic-free” aisles, where shoppers can pick up products which are not packaged in plastic.
The 5p charge for plastic carrier bags will be extended to all retailers in England, closing the Government’s loophole excluding smaller shops, while taxes and charges on single-use items such as takeaway containers will be considered.
In a speech to launch the long-awaited 25-year environment plan, the Prime Minister will say the problem of plastic waste, much of which ends up as damaging pollution in the seas, is “one of the great environmental scourges of our time”.
“We look back in horror at some of the damage done to our environment in the past and wonder how anyone could have thought that, for example, dumping toxic chemicals, untreated, into rivers was ever the right thing to do,” she is expected to say.
“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.”
Plastic damages wildlife and habitats, washing into the ocean, killing sea birds, mammals and turtles which get tangled in waste and causing harm to marine species which swallow it as food.
She will pledge the UK will show global leadership on the issue, taking action at every stage of the production and consumption of plastic.
The Government will use aid money to help developing countries tackle pollution and reduce plastic waste, increase marine protected areas in the UK and establish a protected “blue belt” in Overseas Territories.
Meanwhile plans to help more children engage with the environment will include £10 million for school visits and a programme to create school grounds which allow youngsters to learn more about the natural world.
The environment plan aims to meet the Government’s commitment to being the first generation to leave the natural environment in England in a better state than it was found.
Publication has been delayed several times amid the shifting circumstances of Brexit and changes in environment secretary, while a leaked draft of the plan in circulation last year was criticised as lacking policies.
Ahead of its publication, Patrick Begg, from the National Trust, said it looked as if it would be “pretty comprehensive – tackling issues like restoring wildlife populations, people’s access to green spaces near where they live, cleaning up rivers and turning around the damage that’s been done to the quality of our soil”.
But he warned: “The biggest issue will be whether the plan will have the institutions and laws to ensure it really delivers across the UK.”
Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, welcomed steps by the Government to cut plastic waste, such as a ban on tiny plastics known as “microbeads” and extending the 5p bag charge.
He said the UK used 38.5 million single use plastic bottles and 50 million cans every day, with only half recycled, with many ending up on beaches and in the seas.
“The time for action is now and we urge the Government not to kick the proverbial plastic bottle down the street, but implement new policies and legislation that the country is crying out for to finally go plastic free.”
He added: “We must reinvent our relationship with single-use plastic to eliminate, replace and recycle plastics faster and more effectively.”