UK government to investigate single-use plastic tax

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 22 November 2017

Chancellor Philip Hammond has announced a call for evidence on taxing and charging for single-use plastics in today’s Budget.

I will investigate how the tax system and charges on single-use plastic items can reduce waste. Because we cannot keep our promise to the next generation to build an economy fit for the future unless we ensure our planet has a future

Phillip Hammond,
Chancellor of the Exchequer

The Chancellor said the move was to help prevent pollution in the world’s oceans and to protect the environment.

Researchers estimate that a rubbish truck load of litter is deposited into our oceans every minute with plastic litter now affecting every part of the world’s oceans. On UK beaches the evidence from our Great British Beach Clean reveals levels of litter doubling in the past 20 years.

The move to tackle the problem of single-use plastics, which include packaging and bubble wrap, and polystyrene takeaway boxes, has been welcomed by MCS as well as other environmental campaigners including Greenpeace UK, WWF and Friends of the Earth.

The Chancellor made the announcement after unveiling extra funds and tax incentives for electric car drivers. He said the UK led the world on climate change agreements and is a pioneer in protecting marine environments and he wants the UK to become a global leader in tackling, what he called, the scourge of plastic pollution littering our planet and our oceans.

“With my Right Honourable Friend the Environment Secretary I will investigate how the tax system and charges on single-use plastic items can reduce waste. Because we cannot keep our promise to the next generation to build an economy fit for the future unless we ensure our planet has a future,” the Chancellor told the Commons.

Dr Sue Kinsey, MCS Senior Pollution Policy Officer, says it’s great news that this Government seem to be taking the issue of litter and pollution, marine pollution in particular, seriously, because the evidence of damage is clear: “Data from our Beachwatch programme, which includes the Great British Beach Clean, shows that every year over 20% of the litter we find and record is made up of single-use plastics and despite years of anti-litter campaigns, litter levels are not falling and recycling levels are stagnating.

“We need to implement further actions and we need to do them as soon as possible. Our seas and beaches can’t wait for some magic cure-all solution. Taxes and charges for single use items are a good start but we also need to see a Deposit Refund System brought in for drinks containers and a complete rethink on how we design products so the end of their life isn’t after a single use but we re-use, recycle and reduce.” The move forms part of the Government’s 25-year environment strategy and comes after the plastic carrier bag levy and a ban on microbeads.

This crisis in our oceans has been catapulted onto the mainstream agenda through the Sky Ocean Rescue awareness campaign and the BBC’s Blue Planet II programmes in which Sir David Attenborough described, ahead of the series, the “heartbreaking” sight of an albatross feeding plastic to its young chick instead of fish.

“There’s a shot of the young being fed, and what comes out of the mouth of the beak of the adult? Not sandeels, not fish, not squid - which is what they mostly feed on. It’s plastic and it’s heartbreaking, heartbreaking,” Sir David said.

It is also a problem closer to home, with the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year in the UK enough to fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls - and one in three fish caught in the English Channel containing pieces of plastic, according to the Government.

MCS Chief Executive, Sandy Luk, says: “The evidence is already there to show that our oceans are choking in plastic. We’ve seen how a small charge has made a big difference with plastic carrier bags, and applying this to throwaway plastics more widely would lead to a significant drop in other waste plastics getting into our streets, rivers and seas.”

Actions you can take

  1. Download the Great British Beach Clean Report 2019
  2. Help stop the plastic tide

Did you know?…

Over 170 parliamentarians from across the political spectrum signed up to our Marine Charter calling for a network of ‘marine protected areas’ in UK Seas

Since the carrier bag charge came in across the UK, the Great British Beach Clean has recorded almost 50% fewer bags on beaches

Over time, one plastic bottle bobbing along in the ocean can break down in to hundreds of tiny plastic pieces