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Beating our plastic problem

Beating our plastic problem

6 principles for ending our throwaway culture

Combatting litter in the countryside has always been at the heart of CPRE, with our founder Patrick Abercrombie’s 1926 manifesto suggesting that collecting bottles and jars could be a ‘self-supporting proposition’ for rural councils.

Twenty years later, CPRE’s President the Duke of Norfolk called for people to ‘love rural England as they find it, and not bespattered with paper and bottles’. Consumption patterns may have changed over the years but the issue of litter, and in particular bottles, has sadly become worse.

Overtaking paper and glass, plastic is now the dominant material found littered in the countryside. The UK produces millions of tonnes of plastic every year, much of which isn’t recycled and instead lies as waste longer than any human lifetime.

Through leakage in the waste system or the shameful behaviour of people who litter, single-use plastic can easily make its way into our countryside, blighting our landscapes, threatening wildlife and contaminating our soils and waterways.

Blue Planet II and Sky’s Ocean Rescue Campaign may have galvanised public knowledge of the impacts of plastics in the ocean, but as all plastics originate on land, it’s here that policy changes can have the biggest impact.

We’ve already been at the forefront of some major changes in government policy. We co-founded the Break the Bag Habit campaign for a 5p charge on plastic bags, and drove forward the successful campaign for a deposit return system for bottles and cans.

So when the Treasury announced they’d be consulting on how taxes or charges could help address single-use plastic waste, CPRE was in a strong position to respond and make sure the issue of litter in the countryside is considered in the their plans to tackle the plastic problem.

We submitted a joint response with a number of other environmental organisations, setting out how the taxes and charges can most effectively be used to tackle the plastic problem.  

We also submitted a short response of our own, outlining our key principles for tackling the plastic problem. These six points are crucial for ensuring the battle against plastic helps end the throwaway culture in England:

  1. Reduction of waste must come first

Any policy to tackle single-use plastics should follow the Government’s duty in relation to the waste hierarchy, and focus on the reduction of waste. Recycling should not be the first choice solution, but instead the mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle, recovery and, last resort, disposal, should be adhered to.

  1. Use financial incentives to encourage businesses to act

Any charges or taxes should be introduced to change behaviour and not as a money raising exercise: the threat of a tax should act as an incentive to change behaviour. For example, taxes on producers should be designed to encourage businesses to produce less single-use plastic.

  1. Policies must be future-proofed

The Government should prioritise action against the most polluting plastics that are most likely to end up as litter in our countryside and waterways. However, the scope of any legislation or regulation should be future-proofed, to allow for any changes in the use of plastic or other materials to be automatically covered - for example if some other form of plastic becomes a top polluter.

  1. The polluter should pay

Any taxes or charges on single-use plastics should be part of wider reforms to the UK’s waste system under the banner of ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ (EPR), a system that follows and guarantees the ‘polluter pays’ principle. An effective EPR would work to reduce the amount of single-use plastic that is produced and ensure that, where plastic is used, producers are responsible for that product’s life-cycle, including funding effective collection and recycling.

  1. Charges should change behaviour

Charges should only be directed at consumers where genuine, readily-available, and reasonable alternatives to plastic packaging exist, with the aim of incentivising behaviour change. The income from a charge should not be used to fund recycling and waste collection and disposal infrastructure; producers and packagers should meet this responsibility under EPR systems, including a deposit system.

  1. It’s time to ban unnecessary single-use plastics 

We need to ban unnecessary single-use plastics and, in line with the waste hierarchy duty to reduce waste overall, the Government should automatically introduce a charge on any single-use item that replaces the banned plastic alternative, for example wooden forks. We set out unnecessary single-use plastics as including but not limited to the following

  • Plastic cutlery
  • Plastic drinks stirrers
  • Plastic drinking straws (with some medical exemptions)
  • Plastic cotton buds
  • Plastic plates
  • Plastic balloon sticks
  • Plastic bottles with detachable caps

If designed well, taxes and charges have an important role to play in tackling the scourge of plastic waste and litter, but the government needs to get them right. These key principles will help ensure a long-term solution to litter in our countryside.

If designed well, taxes and charges have an important role to play in tackling the scourge of plastic waste and litter, but the government needs to get them right.

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