The UK's Prime Minister Theresa May has unveiled a new 25-year green plan.
Much of her speech to launch the plan concentrated on the issue of plastic pollution, which has come into much greater focus in recent months. The existing 5p charge on plastic bags (introduced in England in October 2015) is to be extended to all small shops in England, as it already has been in Scotland and Wales, affecting a further 200,000 stores. Until now, only shops employing 250 or more people have had to make the 5p charge.
Her speech followed hot on the heels of a ban on plastic microbeads in products such as exfoliating face creams and toothpastes, which came into force on 9 January 2018. There are an estimated 5 trillion (5,000,000,000,000) pieces of plastic floating in the world's oceans and plastic can now be found even in the most remote and uninhabited areas.
Other measures announced in the green plan included:
- proposals to encourage plastic-free aisles in supermarkets,
- the launch of new marine conservation zones around our coast, to be decided by Ministers by July 2019
- the establishment of half a million hectares of extra wildlife habitat will be investigated by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
- a change in planning rules to ensure that any new development includes benefits to biodiversity in the area
- the set-up of a new, independent environmental watchdog.
- £10 million to support 'nature-friendly schools'.
There were some striking omissions from the plan too. These included the much-publicised 25p charge on disposable coffee cups (currently only 1 out of every 400 gets recycled) to encourage the use of re-usable cups by consumers. There was also no mention of a bottle deposit scheme for plastic bottles, which would mean that customers would receive a small amount of money for returning a plastic bottle to the retailer for recycling. Any initiatives to improve the amount of our waste that is recycled each year also failed to be mentioned in the plan.
So whilst there is some good news for the environment in the new plan, there are many areas that are lacking at the moment. Environmental groups have also pointed out that in many cases, the new initiatives are currently vague and that many will need to be enforced by law in order to ensure that proposals become real actions.