In my time as an MP and particularly as a Minister at DEFRA, I have worked to try to improve environmental and animal welfare standards. At DEFRA we’ve made great strides in tackling the causes of plastic waste that are clogging up the world’s oceans by eliminating micro beads, introducing a new charge on plastic bags and plastic coffee cups as well as a commitment to call for 30% of the world’s oceans to be protected by 2030. There’s clearly much more to do but we’ve taken some big steps forward.
The Resources and Waste strategy published last year, sets out plans to reduce plastic pollution with a target of eliminating all avoidable waste over the lifetime of the Government's 25 Year Environment Plan. The majority of aquatic litter originates from land based sources and therefore the best approach to stemming the flow of plastic is by taking action on land.
The UK's world-leading ban on microbeads will also help stop potentially billions of tiny pieces of plastic from entering the aquatic environment every year. As well as this, 15.6 billion fewer bags have been handed out to shoppers by the seven main retailers since the introduction of the plastic bag charge in 2015. I am also pleased that following an open consultation, a ban on the supply of plastic straws - excluding those needed for medical purposes - drinks stirrers and cotton buds will come into force in April next year.
Ministers have also consulted on a number of key policy measures which will significantly change the way we manage our waste. These include: reforming existing packaging waste regulations; exploring the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers; and increasing consistency in the recycling system; with a parallel consultation on the 'Plastic Packaging Tax' which the Chancellor announced in the Budget last year. The responses to these consultations will be published in due course.
As we leave the EU, we are now able to embrace the opportunities of creating a new Environmental plan that can enhance standards and truly ensure that we have an environment fit enough to pass onto our children and grandchildren. As part of the bill, there will be measures to take direct action to address the biggest environmental priorities of our age: air quality, nature recovery, waste and resource efficiency, and water resource management. The bill will also set out how a new system of green governance will be created, establishing an independent Office for Environmental Protection, to ensure we succeed in leaving the environment in a better condition than we found it.