‘Dereliction of Brexit promises’: Campaigners slam DEFRA over single-use plastics inaction

DEFRA has been accused of taking a “foot dragging approach” to plastic pollution after failing to publish an update on plans to eliminate single-use plastic items more than 12 months after the initial consultation was published.

Close-Up Of Plastic Garbage Pile

In November 2021, DEFRA launched a consultation on plans to ban certain single-use plastic items, including cutlery, polystyrene cups and food and drinks containers. 

Over a year later, environmental groups City to Sea and 38 Degrees have criticised DEFRA for failing to publish any further information on these plans.

The groups have stated that England now stands as the only country in the UK without legislation in place to ban single-use plastics. 

From 1 June 2022 Scotland introduced a new law banning these items and in September 2022 Wales published its draft legislation containing the final list of items to be banned.

Under the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive, plastic plates, cutlery, polystyrene cups and food containers have also been banned across all EU countries since July 2021. 

The two groups have said that England’s failure to pace is a “dereliction of Brexit promises”.

READ MORE: Is Westminster dragging its feet on banning single-use plastics?

Steve Hynd, City to Sea’s policy manager, commented: “We were promised a Green Brexit. Instead, we’re spending years chasing DEFRA to implement the very basic environmental standards that have been in place across Europe now for years. Their foot-dragging approach to tackling plastic pollution stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric of being ‘world leaders’ in tackling plastic pollution.” 

In response to these concerns, a spokesperson from DEFRA said they are going further to tackle plastic pollution and that’s why they have extended the plastic carrier bag charge to all retailers, introduced the packaging tax and have committed to banning the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries. 

A recent report published by the Public Accounts Committee criticised DEFRA for the delayed roll out of certain policies introduced in the 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy. 

For example, the strategy set the goal of eliminating waste crime within 25 years and listed 14 actions to be taken, yet the report highlighted that so far, only three of these actions have been completed.

DEFRA also recently missed the deadline set in the Environment Act to publish its own long-term legally binding environmental targets on biodiversity, water, air and resource management.

On Monday, the Environment Audit Committee published a letter sent to the environment secretary from its chairman, Philip Dunne, in which he calls on DEFRA to publish the targets by the time that COP15 starts.

“We understand that certain environmental groups have made formal representations to your department on the time taken to make progress on certain significant policy,” wrote Dunne, referencing a letter of complaint sent to DEFRA after it missed the target deadline.

“In that letter, which was copied to the OEP, they warn that ‘delay is at risk of becoming the default culture in DEFRA’. Sadly, this is a characterisation that we recognise,” he wrote.