Philip Hammond has announced a new tax on the manufacture and import of plastic packaging that contains less than 30 per cent recycled plastic.
The chancellor made the announcement as part of his Autumn Budget, in which he also said he would not be introducing a tax on takeaway plastic cups.
He reiterated previous comments that the UK must become a world leader in tackling “the scourge of plastic littering our planet and our oceans”.
“Billions of disposable plastic drink cups, cartons, bags and other items are used every year in Britain. Convenient for consumers, but deadly for our wildlife and our oceans,” said Mr Hammond.
“Where we cannot achieve reuse, we are determined to increase recycling.”
Mr Hammond claimed his new policy would “transform the economics of sustainable packaging”, and said the government would consult on the details and timetable of implementation.
However, the chancellor’s commitment did not extend to a so-called “latte levy”, which has previously been suggested as a means of dealing with the country’s disposable cup waste – which amounts to 2.5 billion cups being thrown away every year.
The Independent’s Cut the Cup Waste campaign pushed for such action, which polling suggested was supported by the majority of British people.
The latte levy, first floated by the Environmental Audit Committee, would consist of a 25p added to the price of each coffee cup to encourage the use of reusable alternatives and provide a fund for proper waste management.
“I have concluded that a tax in isolation would not at this point deliver a decisive shift from disposable to reusable cups,” said Mr Hammond.
In 2015 the government added a 5p charge to plastic bags, a move that appears to have cut plastic bag sales by 86 per cent and seen fewer entering the environment.
Many have since called for them to repeat this success with coffee cups and plastic bottles.
Environmental groups criticised the lack of ambition in the chancellor's plastic targets, as well as his lack of focus on climate change when discussing his environmental agenda.
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “Three weeks since the world’s leading climate scientists said governments have just 12 years to turn the tide on the catastrophic and irreversible consequences of climate change, the chancellor has delivered a budget that reads as though he missed the memo."
"Preferential treatment for North Sea oil and gas, keeping the freeze on fuel duty and trimming aviation tax send all the wrong signals to some of our most polluting industries. Meanwhile, the cheapest clean energy options of onshore wind and solar remain frozen through lack of support.
“We’re currently in the middle of a plastics pollution crisis and yet the chancellor failed to take even small steps towards stemming the flow of single use plastics by choosing not to introduce a tax on disposable coffee cups and ignoring calls for a tax on brand new plastic."
Responding to the decision not to impose a latte levy, Friends of the Earth plastic campaigner Julian Kirby said: “It’s astonishing that the chancellor has gone cold on a ‘latte levy’, just when we needed him to turn up the heat on plastic polluters.
“A tax on virgin plastic packaging would be a welcome step – but if we’re going to stem the huge tide of plastic waste pouring into UK waterways every year, far bolder action is needed.”
Mr Sauven added: “Philip Hammond claims he cares about restoring nature for the next generation, but this budget represents a major fail in delivering on this vision.”
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