By Lowri Pitcher
Deputy minister Hannah Blethyn recently announced that the Welsh Government is looking at banning many of the most commonly used single-use plastic products in order to improve Wales’ environmental impact.
Whilst England is aiming to curb the use of many single-use plastics such as ear buds, drink stirers and plastic straws; the Welsh Government is considering implementing an EU directive which would ban single-use plastic items such as plates, cutlery and balloon sticks from EU markets after 2021.
Labour AM Huw Irranaca-Davies, who called a debate in the Welsh Assembly on single-use plastics, expressed his wishes for Wales to become a “world leader in reducing plastic waste.” In order to carry out the proposals mentioned above, he suggested that “appropriate taxes and levies” are implemented in order to “significantly reduce the production and use of signle-use plastics in Wales.” Additionally, he added that Wales should also consider phasing out single-use carrier bags, a step beyond the current charges placed upon the items.
Wales is currently ranked third in the world for the total amount of recycled waste it generates, yet many AMs have also expressed their desires to improve Wales’ environmental impact; specifically the use of single-use coffee cups. Consequently, according to recent figures from BBC Wales, approximately 2.2 million fewer plastic cups were used by public bodies in Wales in the year to August 2019.
During the debate in the Senedd, Irranaca-Davies cited similar efforts by other countries which have decreased the use of plastic, saying: “Complete bans on single-use plastics like carrier bags, done in Bangladesh and in Canada, have worked; plastic straws have been banned in some US states, and cutlery banned in France have proven the easiest way to make a dramatic effect.” He also discussed how introducing a 5p levy on paper cups led to a 156% increase in reusable cups in Starbucks in London.
He later continued to discuss how increasing levys on certain products impacts consumer behaviour. The AM explained that plastic clothing and balloons, chewing gum, single-use pens, protected postal packaging and wet wipes in Wales could be subject to these levies.
Conversely to imposing taxes and levys, the AM also floated the idea of offering ”tax incentives, such as temporary tax relief or reductions for support of sustainable procurement and bulk purchasing in business improvement districts for zero-waste towns, or for other organisations pursuing zero-waste status, such as schools and hospitals, or even individual zero-waste retailers and businesses and reuse and repair initiatives.”AMs from a range of different parties have expressed support for the idea of the proposals eventually becoming a Bill. This Bill would largely aim to reduce the use of single-use plastics, introduce appropritae taxes on such products and establish targets of milestones to measure Wales’ progress on reducing single-use plastics. The plans are currently in their infancy and are expected to be scrutinised by a consultation in the coming months.