London (CNSNews.com) – The British government moved closer this week to a possible widespread tax on plastic, as part of an environmental strategy that could even see a ban on plastic drinking straws.
Chancellor (finance minister) Philip Hammond told reporters Britain has to be a leader in combating the “scourge” of single-use plastics. In his annual spring financial statement, he said that a new consultation would look at a variety of ways to tackle the issue.
Not only would further recycling and alternatives to plastic be looked at, he said, but the government is also considering how the tax system could be leveraged – “not as a way of raising revenue, but as a way of changing behavior.”
Prime Minister Theresa May announced last January a “crackdown” aimed at eliminating all avoidable plastic waste within 25 years.
She said she looked back “in horror” at the damage done to the environment in the past, charging that the amount of single-use plastic wasted in the U.K. each year would fill the Royal Albert Hall, a famous London concert venue, 1,000 times over.
A small tax on plastic bags would be extended to all retailers and the government will work with supermarkets to introduce plastic free supermarket aisles, May said.
Actions would be taken to increase recycling rates and to encourage manufacturers to use less plastic.
In the weeks that followed the speech, Environment Minister Michael Gove suggested that plastic drinking straws may be banned in Britain altogether.
“There’s a widespread understanding that straws are not just another example of plastic waste, they can be lethal,” he said in a television interview in February.
Greenpeace claims that more than 12 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year, causing untold damage to marine life.
The Queen has already officially banned them from the royal residences, and the Scottish Parliament has outlawed them in its buildings.
However, One in Five, a Scottish group that advocates for the rights of disabled people, called for a pause in these campaigns. In interviews with the media, the group said that suggested alternatives – straws made or metal or of straw – were not suitable for hot drinks.
In another move, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office recently announced it was banning the use of plastic cutlery at its operations worldwide by 2020 and that disposable cups would carry a charge of 70 cents apiece.
Complicating matters is that China, which had previously taken much of the world’s recyclable materials, announced at the end of 2017 that it would be strictly limiting imports of plastic waste in order to tackle its own environmental problems.
This led to reports of Europe struggling to deal with “mountains” of plastic and paper waste.
The government’s approach has drawn criticism from some quarters on the grounds it’s not doing enough.
Greenpeace criticized it for allotting only some $22 million in new funding for the entire 25-year program.
Opposition Labour Party lawmakers slammed its refusal to introduce a “latte tax” on disposable takeaway cups used by cafes.
“The government’s response shows that despite warm words they plan no real action,” said Labour’s Mary Creagh, who chairs a parliamentary committee tasked to examine the environmental impact of government policies and programs.
Asked about the priority being given to the issue by a Conservative government, Sam Hall, head of research at conservative think tank Bright Blue said May’s actions represented a strain of thought deep in the party.
Edmund Burke, the 18th century statesman known as the “Father of Conservatism,” wrote of the intergenerational contract to leave the world a habitation not a ruin, he said.
It was a Tory government that passed the Clean Air Act of 1956 and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher warned of the dangers of climate change.
Polling by Bright Blue has found that while green issues are not a top priority for most Conservative voters, a majority favors protecting the environment and opposes rolling back associated regulations once Britain leaves the E.U.
Hall said environmental issues are also popular with younger voters in general and could be key for the party’s future.
“The environment is an area where they can really project their appealing policies,” he said.
During the last general election, last April, younger voters rallying behind Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were pivotal in eliminating the Tory majority in the House of Commons, forcing May to rely on the Democratic Ulster Party for support.