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25 Year Environment Plan: Plastic

The government has set a long-term target to eliminate avoidable plastic waste, pledging to intervene at ‘every stage’ of the plastic lifecycle.

The government has set a long-term target to eliminate avoidable plastic waste, pledging to intervene at ‘every stage’ of the plastic lifecycle. 

The government’s announcement was revealed as part of its landmark 25 Year Environment Plan, which sets out a long-term green vision for the UK to 2042.

Launching the plan on 11 January, Theresa May said: “In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly.

“We must reduce the demand for plastic, reduce the number of plastics in circulation and improve our recycling rates.”


One of the headline goals is a new target to achieve “zero avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042”, which will be achieved through a four point plan:

Production: Encourage producers to take more responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products and rationalise the number of different types of plastics in use by: rationalising packaging formats; reforming and extending Producer Responsibility systems to include plastics not currently covered by existing schemes; exploring bans and charges on particularly problematic materials; and boosting investment in plastics innovation.

Consumption: Cut the amount of plastic in circulation through reducing demand for single-use plastics by: banning single-use plastics in government estates; extending the 5p plastic bag levy to all retailers; supporting the rollout of water bottle refill points in public places; and working with retailers to introduce plastic-free supermarket aisles.

End-of-use: Make it easier for people to recycle by: continuing to support the industry-led on-pack recycling labelling system; implementing voluntary and regulatory interventions to cut the amount of commonly littered items and improve recycling and packaging reuse.

Waste management: Improve the rate of recycling by: working with industry and local authorities to ensure that a consistent set of materials are collected by all local authorities; working with the waste management industry to increase the proportion of plastic packaging that is collected and recycled;  working with research councils to develop a standard for biodegradable plastic bags.

Cross-sector response

To kick-start action, waste charity WRAP will be leading the development of a new cross-sector initiative on plastic packaging that will aim to bring together businesses, governments, local authorities, NGOs and society at large. 

The initiative is part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s global New Plastics Economy and will officially launch in spring 2018.

Meanwhile, Iceland has announced it will eliminate plastic packaging from all its own brand products by 2023, while McDonald’s, Tesco and major food manufacturer Cranswick plc have announced that 100 per cent of their packaging will come from recyclable, recycled or renewable sources by 2025.