9 January 2020 by James Langley

Briefing paper published ahead of Environment Bill return

With the Environment Bill expected to be reintroduced later this month, a House of Commons Library briefing paper on plastic waste in the UK has been published.

While the Environment Bill – which included proposals on a deposit return scheme, consistency in recycling and reform of the extended producer responsibility systems – passed a second reading in October, it fell at the dissolution of parliament for the 2019 General Election.

The briefing paper was published earlier this week outlining the government’s position on plastic waste

With the Bill set to return later this month, the briefing is intended to provide an overview of the issue of plastic waste in Britain today.

As way of an introduction it reads: “Plastic waste often does not decompose and can last centuries in landfill, or else end up as litter in the natural environment, which in turn can pollute soils, rivers and oceans, and harm the creatures that inhabit them.

“Single use plastic does have a number of benefits. These include contributing to food safety and hygiene and reducing packaging weight in transit and thereby reducing energy and emissions that would be generated by using alternative materials.”

Prior to the General Election, Defra outlined its expectation that the Environment Bill would go forward to the next session of parliament, setting out green governance and protections for the environment following the UK’s exit from the European Union.

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson having secured a large majority, it seems unlikely the Bill will see too many significant differences when it returns, and so is expected to include policies on air quality, restoring natural spaces, delivering sustainable water resources and resources and waste.


The briefing paints a deliberately broad and wide-ranging picture of how the government views plastic waste.

It describes several of the current issues affecting the sector, including the ban by China on accepting certain types of plastic waste and some of the terminology problems that arise when describing plastic.

It refers to EU law, pointing to the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy and reiterates former prime minister Theresa May’s targets of zero avoidable waste by 2050 and eliminating avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042.

The government’s proposals on tackling plastic waste are touched upon, with measures including a plastic packaging tax, a disposable cups levy and a ban on single-use plastics mentioned. All of these are expected to make up the Environment Bill.

Several voluntary initiatives are referred to, including the Plastics Pact, the Plastics Industry Recycling Action Plan and the UK Circular Plastics Network.

The briefing can be read in full here 

State Opening

The Environment Bill is expected to return later this month and was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech in December

The new Bill was mentioned briefly in the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament on 19 December (see letsrecycle.com story ).

She said: “To protect and improve the environment for future generations, a bill will enshrine in law environmental principles and legally-binding targets, including for air quality.

“It will also ban the export of polluting plastic waste to countries outside the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and establish a new, world-leading independent regulator in statute.”


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