The Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS) for England, published in December 2018, sets out our plans to reduce, reuse, and recycle more plastic than we do now. Our target is to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste throughout the lifetime of the 25 Year Environment Plan, but for the most problematic plastics we are going faster - that is why we are working towards all plastic packaging placed on the market being recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025.
We have already made good progress. The Government’s 5p plastic bag charge has led to a 90% reduction in the use of plastic carrier bags in the main retailers, and last year we consulted on plans to extend the charge to all retailers and on increasing the minimum charge to at least 10p. A summary of responses will be published soon. We have also introduced a world-leading ban on the sale of microbeads in rinse-off personal care products.
In 2019, the Government consulted on a number of key policy measures set out in the RWS: reforming existing packaging waste regulations; exploring the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers; increasing consistency in the recycling system; and introducing a tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content. These measures will help reduce the production of unnecessary plastic and encourage the development of alternatives to plastic. In July 2019, the Government published its responses to these consultations; more detailed consultations on these measures will be published this year. As announced in the Queen’s speech the forthcoming Environment Bill will include powers to enable Government to deliver these measures.
The Government has also announced £60 million of funding through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, alongside a £150 million investment from industry, towards the development of smart, sustainable plastic packaging, which will aim to make the UK a world-leader in sustainable packaging for consumer products. To better understand some of these new and emerging materials, the Government published a call for evidence on the development of standards for bio-based, biodegradable, and compostable plastics last year. We recognise the role these materials could play in reducing the impact of plastic waste, however we must be wary of unintended consequences. A Government response to this call for evidence will be published in spring.