May said in the future people would be shocked by the amount of plastic generated today © PA Wire/PA Images
May said in the future people would be shocked by the amount of plastic generated today © PA Wire/PA Images

May unveils supply chain strategy for ‘greener future’

11 January 2018

The government has pledged to work with the agri-food supply chain to cut greenhouse gas emissions and waste by a fifth by 2025.

In a wide-ranging 25-year environment plan, the government also promised to support zero deforestation, including helping local authorities draw up procurement plans to increase the number of urban trees and exploring the development of tools that help firms "identify sustainable supply chains".

In her first major speech on the environment as prime minister Theresa May has outlined her vision for a “cleaner, greener Britain”. 

Introducing the plan at the London Wetlands Centre in Barnes, May said the government’s long-term aim was to “make our the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it”.

“Our mission is to build a Britain where the next generation can enjoy a better life than the one that went before it,” she said. 

“It means protecting and enhancing our natural environment for the next generation, so they have a healthy and beautiful county in with to build their lives.”

The 151-page plan, released by Downing Street, has focused on how the government aims to improve resource efficiency, biodiversity, air and water quality and ecological restoration.

The plan echoed May’s speech to “leave a lighter footprint on the global environment by enhancing sustainability and supporting zero deforestation supply chains”.

It said the government would commit to reducing food supply chain emissions and waste by one fifth by 2025.

It said it would do so by working with organisations along the agri-food supply chain to improve food waste issues, including the possibility of rolling out guidance on applying ‘use by’ dates only where there is a food safety reason to use them. 

To support its zero deforestation commitment, the report said a cross-government global resource initiative will be set up that will work with businesses, NGOs, producer countries and intermediary countries to identify supply chain actions to boost the sustainability of products and reduce deforestation. 

The report said action would be taken to tackle the widespread use of chemicals in industry, agriculture, food systems and homes via a new chemicals strategy to track chemicals across the supply chain. No publication date was given for the strategy.

However, the major focus of the 25-year plan and May’s speech surrounded efforts to tackle plastic waste.

“In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly,” she said.

As part of its efforts to reduce plastic use, the plan said the government would extend the 5p charge on plastic carrier bags, introduced in 2015, to all retailers, including all smaller shops with fewer than 250 employees, which are currently exempt.

Supermarkets will be encouraged to adopt plastic-free aisles, in which all food is loose, and other measures, including a possible charge on single-use plastic containers such as takeaway boxes will also be consulted on, it said.

May said the measures would help address the vast scale of plastic waste pollution around the globe, which has become an increasingly important issue.

Although Caroline Lucas, Green Party co-leader, welcomed the speech as a step forward, she said it was disappointing the government had failed to solidify their ambitions with concrete legislation. 

“Many of the aims of this plan are far to vague and won’t make action happen soon enough,” she said. 

“Focusing only on the low-hanging fruits of environmental protection is like treating heart disease with a bypass, without changing your diet or taking up regular exercise. It’s not a serious, sustainable solution for the long term.” 

Tanya Steele, CEO of WWF, echoed Lucas’s sentiment and urged the government to follow through with its pledges. 

“I sincerely hope that the government’s 25-year plan marks a turning point when we start restoring our environment rather than destroying it,” she said. 

“But these commitments will only become a reality if they are backed by the force of law, money and a new environmental watchdog.”

Meanwhile, on 9 January a UK ban on the use of microbeads in the manufacture of wash-off cosmetics came into force.

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