British Prime Minister wants to cut all avoidable plastic within 25 years

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On the same day as Theresa May has spoken of the "environmental scourge" of plastic waste while launching the government's 25 Year Environment Plan (11 January), the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has announced a new initiative in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) aiming to tackle plastic pollution while transforming the United Kingdom plastics system.

The premier underlined that single-use plastic waste was "ingested by dozens of species of marine animals and over 100 species of sea birds, causing vast suffering to individual creatures and degrading vital habitats". "I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly", PM May said of the pledge.

"One million birds, and over 100,000 other sea mammals and turtles die every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste". She continued to describe plastics waste as "one of the great environmental scourges of our time".

However, opposition leaders and environmental campaigners were quick to condemn the proposals as dangerously insufficient.

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has launched an initiative to help "turn the tide on the UK's growing issue of plastic waste".

Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said the measures "don't match the scale of the environmental crisis we face".

The overall plan was "a cynical attempt at rebranding the Tories' image and appears to contain only weak proposals", she said.

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Greenpeace said the announcements on plastics were "a missed opportunity", with a particular omission being no plans for a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, which the group said was shown to work well.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats criticised the government's strategy claiming that 25 years was too long and that action on plastic packaging was needed now.

The plan also encourages the development of "plastic-free supermarket aisles".

Goals unveiled today include eliminating avoidable plastic waste by 2042 and extending a five-pence (seven-cent) charge for plastic bags to all stores. Next month the government will call for evidence on how taxes or charges could discourage the use of products such as takeaway containers.

However, in a statement, the British Plastic Federation (BPF) said that it was "very disturbed" at the tone of the Prime Minister's language and it did not recognise the 170,000 jobs that the plastics industry brings to the UK.

"We look forward to working with government to help the United Kingdom progress towards a truly circular economy by helping to reduce littering, significantly increasing recycling infrastructure, ensuring all packaging used for food and drink consumed "on the go" is captured for recycling, encouraging design for recyclability and the use of recycled materials in new low carbon products".