Environment scheme has admirable aspirations but is a missed opportunity, say Shropshire campaigners
Environmentalists in Shropshire today praised the aspirations of Theresa May's plan to turn the UK green, but voiced concerns about the timescale.
Mrs May issued the challenge, “Make ours the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state we found it”, as she unveiled the Government’s long-term plan for the environment.
The environment scheme includes plans to eliminate avoidable plastic waste. Practical measures include the extension of the 5p charge for plastic bags to all shops – and the public may also end up paying extra for plastic takeaway trays.
Frank Oldacre, of Shrewsbury Friends of the Earth, said ending all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 was an admirable ambition.
But he said there was also a need to do more in the immediate future.
"The aspirations sound great, but I feel 25 years is a bit of a long time," said Mr Oldacre.
"Why not make it 10 years, why not some action immediately?"
"The charge on single use coffee cups is one example of something they could do immediately, but they seem reluctant to do bring in specific charges.
"The charge on plastic bags took a long time in coming.
"Making glass bottles returnable and charging a deposit on them will take a little longer, but we shouldn't be talking about much over a couple of years."
Mr Oldacre said the biggest problem at the moment was that people still did not use the recycling services that existed at the moment.
He said Shropshire Council and the waste company Veolia had done a very good job in making it easy for people to recycle, but too much was still going to landfill.
"I have got the smallest grey bin you can get, and I probably put it out every six weeks," he said.
"Because we're interested in it, we make the effort, but there are a lot of people who just think it's easier to put it all in the grey bin.
"Shropshire Council and Veolia have done quite a lot to make it very much simpler, allowing you to mix the different colours of glass, plastic and tins, they all go together in a different box."
Mr Oldacre said while the plans placed a lot of emphasis on encouraging people and businesses to do more voluntarily, there needed to be an element of compulsion to make a real difference.
"They tried telling people to cut down on plastic bags for years, and it made little difference," he said.
"Then they introduced the 5p charge, and use went down by 80 per cent.
"There has to be some stick as well as carrot."
Mr Oldacre welcomed the recent calls by Environment Secretary Michael Gove to install drinking water fountains in town centres, to discourage sales of bottled water. He said he would very much like to see one installed in Shrewsbury.
Louise Edge of Greenpeace said the Government's plan represented a missed opportunity.
"It's good that the Government wants to make tackling plastic waste a priority, but the specific measures announced today don't match the scale of the environmental crisis we face," she said.
"Encouraging more water fountains, extending charges on plastic bags and funding for innovation can all be part of the solution, but the overall plastics plan lacks urgency, detail and bite.
"The most glaring gap is support for deposit return schemes.
"These are tried-and-tested ways to keep plastic bottles out of the environment and have strong public backing, yet there's no trace of them in the government announcement.
"And with another truckload of plastic waste going into our oceans every minute, we just can't wait another 25 years before eliminating throwaway plastic.
"Britain has the potential to become the first country in the world to end throwaway plastic - it's an opportunity we shouldn't waste."
The Government's environment scheme includes plans to:
- Eliminate avoidable plastic waste within 25 years, including stores to introduce ‘plastic-free’ aisles
- Extend the 5p charge for plastic carrier bags to all retailers in England
- Consider taxes and charges on single-use items like takeaway containers
- Direct aid spending towards helping developing nations to reduce plastic use
- Support the transition to almost all cars and vans producing zero carbon emissions by 2050
- Create a new Northern Forest stretching from Cheshire to Lancashire and Yorkshire
- Establish a £10 million Nature Friendly Schools programme to allow pupils to plant gardens
- Set up a independent statutory body to hold government to account on the environment after Britain leaves the EU