An additional 700,000 tons of plastic will be thrown away while the government delays its proposed tax on plastic packaging, according to Labour analysis.
The next four years will also see British people throw away at least 100,000 tons of coffee cups, a figure that critics argue could be slashed with the introduction of a 25p charge on beverages.
While he did announce a new tax on the manufacture and import of plastic packaging that contains less than 30 per cent recycled plastic, it is not set to come into force until 2022.
The shadow environment secretary has been joined by campaigners in criticising the government for “dithering” on measures to curb plastic pollution as it floods into marine and land ecosystems, and finds its way into human bodies.
Though the new tax is intended to reduce dependence on plastics that are very difficult or impossible to recycle such as black food trays, campaigners say measures must be far tougher and have called for total bans on certain plastics.
Sue Hayman, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, said: “It’s scandalous that over 700,000 tons of additional plastic waste will devastate our environment while the Tories dither and delay over even the most basic of measures.
“Yet again the government is showing a shocking disregard for the environment at a time when the urgency and seriousness of the situation has never been clearer.”
Environmental groups have pointed to the government’s successful implementation of a charge on plastic bags, which has slashed use by 85 per cent, and urged them to imitate it for other problem items.
“The plastic bag charge showed us that tough action on plastics works, and the public supports it. The same logic should apply to non-recyclable disposable coffee cups,” said Paul Morozzo, plastics campaigner at Greenpeace.
“Problem plastics must be banned by 2019, and the government must set a tough timetable for year on year reductions in plastic waste.”
Friends of the Earth plastic campaigner Julian Kirby said: “The chancellor’s decision to delay a plastic tax and shelve plans for a ‘latte levy’ will pour more plastic waste into our environment – as well as blowing a huge hole in the government’s green credentials.”
Some 2.5 billion cups are disposed of every year, but they are rarely recycled due to the lack of infrastructure to transport them to appropriate facilities that can separate the paper base from its plastic lining.
While ministers signalled they were seriously considering a charge to discourage people from using the cups in the manner of plastic bags, the government ultimately went cold on the idea.
Tony Juniper, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF, said there was no time to wait for effective plastic taxes to be introduced.
“Already 90 per cent of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs and a wide range of marine wildlife faces a mounting threat,” he said.
“This is why we are so disappointed that the budget didn’t have more concrete actions to tackle this terrible problem.”
In response, a government spokesperson said: “Our new packaging tax is world-leading and will incentivise producers of single-use plastic to use more recycled material in their products and drive up recycling rates.
“At Budget we also announced £20m to support the development of new ways to recycle plastic waste, so that we can better protect our environment for future generations.”
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