‘Overwhelming’ public response to plastic pollutionEthical News News & Features
130,000 members of the public responded to the Treasury call for evidence on how taxes and charges could be used to address single-use plastic pollution, setting a new record for a Treasury consultation.
Twenty eight major environmental organisations also submitted a joint response, which is one of the largest collaborative responses ever.
Public reaction to plastic
Public reaction to the issue of plastic pollution has been overwhelming, with landmark programmes like Blue Planet II showing the devastating impact of discarded plastic on wildlife and the environment.
Research has shown that seven out of eight adults are at least ‘fairly concerned’ about plastic pollution. The majority of the UK public support the plastic bag charge (70%) and back the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers (74%).
The 2016 microbeads petition, calling on the government for a ban on tiny microplastics, was Greenpeace UK’s most successful environmental petition. It has only just been surpassed by a new petition asking supermarkets to reduce the volume of throwaway plastic packaging they produce, which has been signed by nearly half a million people.
Plastics policy in the spotlight
Chancellor Philip Hammond used this year’s Spring Statement to launch a public Treasury consultation on how the tax system can be used to reduce volumes of the most environmentally damaging single-use plastics, following the success of the plastic bag charge.
The actions resulting from the consultation will help deliver the government’s target of eliminating avoidable plastic waste by 2042. There is increasing pressure from the public and environmental organisations for the government to increase their ambition on tackling plastic pollution.
Fiona Nicholls, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said government policy on plastic packaging ‘is in the spotlight’ due to huge public backing for efforts to tackle ocean plastic pollution.
‘We’re used to seeing huge numbers of our supporters engaging with petitions’, Fiona said, ‘but it’s unprecedented to see so many members of the public give up their time to answer a government consultation. The Treasury asked for opinions on what they should do to cut plastic waste, and 130,000 people have shared their ideas. Plastic pollution is an issue which is engaging everyone, everywhere, of all ages and from all walks of life.’
During Treasury Oral Questions in the House of Commons on 22 May, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Robert Jenrick, said, ‘It is a rare day on which a Treasury call for evidence on tax stirs the enthusiasm of the general public, but this one has. We received a record 130,000 submissions from throughout the country. We are determined to take the issue seriously and to tackle the scourge of single-use plastics.’
The EU has announced a raft of concrete measures to tackle the problem of single-use plastics, including a proposed ban on items like straws, stirrers and cutlery. It has also suggested overall consumption reduction targets, and a target for all EU member states to collect at least 90% of plastic bottles through measures such as a deposit return scheme.
‘The response to the UK consultation could not be more clear. People want action and the government must put hard law in place as the EU has done. As well as improving recycling and introducing taxes and charges, the government should move quickly to shrink the amount of plastic waste being produced in the first place. There should be more pressure on supermarkets to cut down the amount of throwaway plastic and to make sure non-recyclable and problem plastics are off the shelves by 2019.’
Oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK
The 28 environmental organisations that submitted a joint response to the Treasury consultation on single-use plastic suggested bans on ‘pointless’ and ‘problem’ plastics, taxes on virgin plastic materials and item-specific taxes on all remaining single-use plastics and packaging.