Shoppers who shun plastic packaging could skip busy supermarket queues under proposals put forward by Theresa May.
As part of a drive to eradicate single-use plastic items completely from the UK, the Government will urge shops to introduce ‘plastic-free’ checkouts to encourage customers to think twice about additional packaging.
The Prime Minister used a speech on Thursday to call for the end of all avoidable plastic waste by 2042, and as well as the supermarket queue reforms will announce extending the plastic bag charge to all shops in England – not just larger outlets.
Since being introduced in 2015, the 5p charge has seen an estimated 9million fewer bags used by shoppers in the UK.
The Government is also investigating introducing a ‘takeaway tax’ on single-use plastic items, such as food containers.
Labour called Tory attempts to rebrand themselves as friends of the environment “cynical”, and attacked the Government’s record on air quality and climate change targets.
Greenpeace said the plastics plan “lacks urgency, detail and bite.”
Launching the 25 Year Environment Plan, May said: “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.
“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.
“This plastic is ingested by dozens of species of marine mammals and over 100 species of sea birds, causing immense suffering to individual creatures and degrading vital habitats. 1 million birds, and over 100,000 other sea mammals and turtles die every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste. One in three fish caught in the English Channel contains pieces of plastic.
“This truly is one of the great environmental scourges of our time.
“Today I can confirm that the UK will demonstrate global leadership. We must reduce the demand for plastic, reduce the number of plastics in circulation and improve our recycling rates.
“To tackle it we will take action at every stage of the production and consumption of plastic.”
May is also expected to announce new funding into plastics innovation by inviting bids into the Government’s £7billion research and development pot.
It is estimated that 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s and research indicates that without urgent action to cut demand this is likely to be 34 billion tonnes by 2050.
During its recent Great British Beach Clean Up of the UK, the Marine Conservation Society found 718 pieces of litter for every 100m stretch of beach surveyed, and of this, rubbish from food and drink made up at least one fifth.
Louise Edge, Senior Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK, described the planned announcements as “a missed opportunity” which “don’t match the scale of the environmental crisis we face.”
She added: “Encouraging more water fountains, extending charges on plastic bags and funding for innovation can all be part of the solution, but the overall plastics plan lacks urgency, detail and bite.
“The most glaring gap is support for deposit return schemes. These are tried-and-tested ways to keep plastic bottles out of the environment and have strong public backing, yet there’s no trace of them in the government announcement.
“And with another truckload of plastic waste going into our oceans every minute, we just can’t wait another 25 years before eliminating throwaway plastic.”
Green and animal welfare policies have become one of the key tenants of Tory party messaging since the 2017 election, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove winning praise for his first six months in the job.
Two of May’s closest advisors, Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell and Director of Communications Robbie Gibb, have been inviting groups of MPs into Downing Street for briefings, where they have been told the environment is one of seven new policy principles which will be focused on.
One senior Tory told HuffPost UK in December: “It’s been a Number 10 strategy for some time. Robbie Gibb wants to make the Tory party the animal welfare party.”
Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman MP said the Government’s environmental record “is one of failure and broken promises” as she criticised the planned announcements.
She said “They have cut support for renewables, put us on course to miss climate targets, voted against key environmental protections and allowed air pollution to escalate into a public health emergency on their watch.
“This plan, years behind schedule, is a cynical attempt at rebranding the Tories image and appears to contain only weak proposals with Britain’s plastic waste crisis kicked into the long grass. This is all simply too little too late to reverse the damage of the Tories’ inconsistent and failed approach to environmental policy.
“All shops, including small corner shops, have always been covered by the 5p carrier bag charge in Wales and Scotland, unlike England. So the Government is simply playing catch up with this announcement.”