Inisters has been accused by activists of failing to keep their Brexit pledge not to lower UK environmental standards after the divorce from Brussels.
European Union member states are currently enacting legislation introducing a Brussels directive banning the most polluting single-use plastics, including cutlery, plates and styrofoam food containers, but the UK government has yet to follow suit in England
After the 2016 Brexit referendum, ministers regularly declared to the UK government that the country would continue to maintain high environmental standards even after separating from the bloc, and promised to lead the world on green issues.
However, the PA news agency can announce that 21 campaign groups – including Greenpeace Friends of the Earth, City to Sea and Keep Britain Tidy – are challenging the government on its commitments, warning that non-compliance with EU anti-plastic rules will would do a “terrible neglect of promises to lead on environmental issues after Brexit”.
In a letter Tuesday to Environment Secretary Rebecca Pow, they will argue that if Ministers fail to act, standards in England will fall below those of both the EU and the rest of the UK.
If the government fails to meet these minimum standards, it would be a terrible breach of its promise to lead on environmental issues after Brexit
Boris Johnson’s government has passed laws against straws, stirring sticks and cotton swabs, which are part of the EU-wide directive that came into force on July 3rd, but unlike other decentralized parts of the UK, it has cutlery, plates or plastic chopsticks attached to balloons, along with other hard-to-break plastic food containers and packaging.
An online petition asking Ms. Pow to ban such single-use items in England had received more than 75,000 signatures as of Sunday.
In the open letter to the junior minister, the groups state that “not only is the government failing to take the lead in the fight against plastics, it is falling behind our European neighbors and decentralized nations in the UK” if they fail to list the polluting items prohibited in Article 5 of the EU one-way directive.
Activists urge ministers to introduce “at least” a ban in England on the products listed in the EU directive as the pandemic raises new fears that the fight against single-use plastics has lost their way to Britain’s beaches and waterways.
The coronavirus crisis has resulted in a sharp increase in the production of difficult-to-dispose of products such as disposable face covers and other personal protective equipment (PPE).
Steve Hynd, Policy Manager at City to Sea – a nonprofit working to stop plastic pollution at its source, said, “It is frankly embarrassing that our governments are still lagging behind while other governments are moving forward.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised Britain will lead the world on environmental issues after leaving the EU (Daniel Leal-Olivas / PA) / PA wire
“If the government does not meet these minimum standards, it would be a terrible violation of its promise to lead on environmental issues after Brexit.”
Nina Cabinet, senior activist at Greenpeace, said: “The government claims to be the leader in tackling plastic pollution but is falling behind on the most basic of measures.
“At the very least, they have to comply with EU law to ban some of the most harmful single-use plastics.”
Greenpeace is also calling on businesses and grocery stores to “strengthen” and expand their refillable and reusable options.
Given that environmental issues have decentralized responsibility, some UK have already proposed similar bans to the EU in their domestic markets.
Northern Ireland, according to the groups, is required by the Northern Ireland Protocol to implement “certain articles” of the directive by 2022, and both Scotland and Wales have proposed banning single-use plastics.
A spokeswoman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The UK is a world leader in tackling plastic pollution.
“We have banned microbeads in flushable personal care products, as well as the delivery of plastic straws, stir sticks and cotton swabs, and our tote bag fee has reduced sales in major supermarkets by 95%.
“Our pioneering environmental law will empower ministers to introduce return systems for plastic beverage containers and make companies more responsible for the packaging they make, incentivize them to use more recyclable materials and meet higher recycling goals.
“The bill will also make it easier for ministers to levy fees on single-use plastic items that threaten our ecosystems, and we are currently exploring options as to which items to target next.”