Government dragging its feet tackling plastic waste

26 February 2018

The Environmental Audit Committee publishes the Government response to the Environmental Audit Committee's report, Plastic Bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide.

The Government has not adequately acted upon, or responded to, the Committee's recommendations on deposit return schemes and producer responsibility obligations.

Chair comments on Government response

Environmental Audit Committee Chair, Mary Creagh MP:

"My Committee was shocked to find that the UK unnecessarily uses over 7 billion plastic water bottles every year.

"The Government needs to do much more to combat plastic pollution. Premises serving food or drink should be legally obliged to provide free drinking water.

Producers, not the taxpayer, should pay for costs of recovering hard to recycle packaging. A UK-wide deposit return scheme is a crucial next step to turn back the plastic tide."

Deposit Return Scheme

The Environmental Audit Committee called on the Government to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme for plastic drinks bottles.

In its response to the report, the Government indicated that a decision on a Deposit Return Scheme could be delayed until after the consultation on a tax on single-use plastics.

The Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee recently wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer asking why this consultation has not started three months after it was announced in the budget.

Chair's comments

"The Government is dragging its feet on introducing a deposit return scheme.

Every day the Government delays, another 700,000 plastic bottles end up in our streets.

This delay is unacceptable, the Government must get its ducks in a row.

The Government needs to take decisive action on this important issue instead of kicking it into the long grass."

Drinking Water Access

The Environmental Audit Committee's report found that the UK uses 7.7 billion plastic water bottles each year, and in its response, the Government acknowledges that "it is clear we need a culture shift" around the UK's use of plastic water bottles.

DEFRA and WaterUK have committed to create a network of water refill points across England, but the Committee received no evidence that WaterUK and water companies are doing this.

Ministers have written to retailers, coffee shops and transportation hubs to encourage them to provide free drinking water, but there are still no plans to extend the requirement for licensed premises to provide drinking water to all premises that serve food or drink.

Chair's comments

"Encouraging businesses to provide water refills is a positive step, but the Government should go further and make it a legal requirement for all premises that serve food or drink to provide drinking water on request.

We heard no evidence from the water industry about plans to create a network of refill points.

The UK has safe, clean tap water and failing to provide it leads to unnecessary use of plastic water bottles which clog up our river and seas."

Producer Responsibility

The Committee heard that the UK’s producer responsibility obligations, which aim to make producers responsible for the disposal of their packaging, "fails the Ronseal test."

The Committee called on the Government to adopt a compliance fee structure that rewards design for recyclability and raises charges on packaging that is difficult to recycle.

In its response to the report, the Government says it wants to "encourage consumers to take more responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products" but does not commit to any concrete policies to achieve this vision.

Chair's comments

"Producers should be responsible for the packaging they produce, but shortfalls in the producer responsibility system have allowed producers to use complex, difficult to recycle plastics.

"The Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy should adopt our recommendations to kick start more sustainable production of plastics."

Further information

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