Expansion expected of highly successful policy of charging 5p for each bag could be extended beyond large retailers
January 10, 2018 — The 5p charge for plastic bags is expected to be applied to small shops under government plans to be unveiled by Theresa May this week as she seeks to tackle Britain’s “throwaway culture”.
In a major speech on the environment, the prime minister will promise to hold consultations on removing an exemption that allows retailers with fewer than 250 employees to continue to give out free bags. The levy on supermarkets and other large retailers resulted in a 90% decline in use, with nine billion fewer plastic bags being used.
Such an extension would come alongside other measures to crack down on plastics pollution after Gove said he was “haunted” by images of the damage done to the world’s oceans shown on David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II TV series.
May and Gove briefed cabinet ministers on Tuesday, ahead of the speech that will mark the publication of the government’s 25-year plan, that will include a focus on single-use plastics.
The prime minister “said the government had a clear belief in ‘conserving what is good, and standing against the profligate use of resources – whether it be public money or natural resources’,” according to her official spokesman.
May’s plan would be focused on the idea of becoming “the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we inherited”.
Gove told colleagues he was determined to tackle “the throwaway culture that plastics encapsulate” with a series of new initiatives on Thursday, the spokesman added.
“The environment secretary also said that he was working collaboratively with the secretary of state for international development to look at using aid money on the environmental agenda, such as reducing pollution by plastics.”
Gove arrived for the meeting carrying a reusable coffee cup made of bamboo fibre, after being criticised for previously turning up with a single-use takeaway option.
Worries about overuse of 2.5bn disposable coffee cups each year has already been raised by campaigners, and the environmental audit committee has called for a 25p “latte levy” to be charged on top of the price of a hot drink.
The environment secretary is understood to be considering proposals to encourage retailers to use fewer types of plastic and to get councils to adopt a standardised recycling policy.
The current patchwork of regimes means many types of plastic are not collected from households. Together, the two measures are intended to ensure that a greater proportion of the packaging used in the UK can be recycled.
In the November budget, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced plans to investigate new taxes on single-use plastic items. Ministers are also considering a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and other drink containers.