Theresa May has set out plans to get rid of avoidable plastic waste within 25 years – as she also confirmed the 5p bag charge will be extended to all shops.
The Prime Minister said she wanted to “make ours the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it”.
Unveiling her Environmental Plan in a speech in west London, she called plastic “one of the great environmental scourges of our time”.
Single-use plastic wasted every year in the UK would fill the Royal Albert Hall 1,000 times, the PM said.
Supermarkets will also be encouraged to have plastic-free aisles where items such as fruit and veg are loose rather than wrapped up in film.
Charges and taxes on single-use items, for example takeaway containers, will also be considered.
And the 5p plastic bag charge will now also be brought in for smaller shops, which were previously exempt.
But critics of the plan have called it a “missed opportunity” and say it should be underpinned by new laws in order to hold the Government and businesses to account.
Speaking at London’s Wetland Centre, Mrs May insisted that Brexit would not lead to lower environmental standards.
She said: “We will incorporate all existing EU environmental regulations into domestic legalisation when we leave.
“We will set out our plans for a new, world-leading independent statutory body to hold government to account and give the environment a voice.”
Other pledges include aid to help developing nations reduce plastic use and a new Northern Forest from Cheshire to Lancashire and Yorkshire.
There was no confirmation in the PM’s speech of a suggested 25p charge on the millions of disposable coffee cups used each year – of which only a tiny percentage get recycled.
However, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has called the idea “exciting” and “one we are reflecting on”.
Greenpeace praised the Government for wanting to tackle plastic waste, but called the plans a “missed opportunity” which do not match the “scale of the environmental crisis”.
The campaign group called for a deposit return schemes on plastic bottles.
The National Trust’s Patrick Begg questioned whether the plan “will have the institutions and laws to ensure it really delivers across the UK”.
Labour attacked the Tories’ environmental record and accused them of cutting renewables support and allowing air pollution to escalate.
Sue Hayman, shadow environment secretary, called it “a cynical attempt at rebranding”.
She called for a fracking ban and for a new Clean Air Act, as well as backing Labour’s environmental amendments to the Brexit bill next week.
Meanwhile, the British Takeaway Campaign said the Prime Minister’s plans “would lead to increased costs for consumers and hurt the many small and independent businesses”.
“With takeaways reliant on having a cost effective solution to keeping customers’ food hot, an additional plastic tax will harm the prospects of an industry which contributes £9.4bn to the economy,” chairman Ibrahim Dogus said.
“The British Takeaway Campaign will be consulting our members, such as the Foodservice Packaging Association, to explore workable alternative solutions which do not increase costs for small businesses or lead to higher prices for customers.”
Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign has been running for a year, highlighting the damage being done by plastics to the seas and their wildlife.
Chief executive Jeremy Darroch called the PM’s plan a “welcome step forward” but added: “We need to see real action and ambitious targets if we are to effectively manage this critical issue.”