Theresa May is to declare war on the UK’s “throwaway culture” by demanding the 5p levy on plastic bags is extended from supermarkets and other major stores to all shops.
The Prime Minister is also being urged to back demands from a committee of MPs earlier this week for a 25p “latte levy” on throwaway plastic coffee cups.
In a huge boost for Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign, the PM is to make a major speech on the environment on Thursday in which she will commit the Government to a war on waste.
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In her speech, Mrs May will spell out a 25-year plan for the environment that senior Whitehall sources claim will be a key moment in the Government’s attempt to regain the green agenda.
She is expected to announce moves to close the exemption that means retailers with fewer than 250 employees do not need to charge customers for single-use plastic bags.
Downing Street has revealed that the Prime Minister and Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, briefed ministers on the plastics crackdown at the first meeting of her new Cabinet.
Image: Theresa May leads the first meeting of her reshuffled Cabinet
According to her official spokesman, the PM said the Government had a clear belief in “conserving what is good, and standing against the profligate use of resources – whether it be public money or natural resources”.
The spokesman added that the Prime Minister’s 25-year plan would be focused on the idea of becoming “the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we inherited”.
Mr Gove was seen arriving for the Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street carrying a reusable coffee cup made with bamboo fibre after being criticised for using disposable cups.
During the meeting, he told his Cabinet colleagues he was “determined to tackle the throwaway culture which plastic encapsulates”.
Image: Michael Gove holds a reusable coffee cup as he arrives in Downing Street.
In his budget in November, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced plans for a tax increase on other disposable plastic items such as takeaway boxes and plastic bottles. A consultation is now under way.
A separate proposal to introduce plastic bottle deposit return schemes in supermarkets is not ready to be announced yet.
Instead, Mrs May is expected to reveal moves to end exemptions to the 5p plastic bag tax.
The levy has led to a dramatic reduction in use since it was introduced in England in October 2015.
Figures published last July showed that nine billion fewer bags had been used and that more than £66m had been given by supermarkets to good causes from the 5p charge.
Announcing a consultation on removing the remaining exemptions, Mrs May will say that the tax shows the effectiveness of well-judged state intervention.
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According to Government sources, the extension of the levy would be a matter for a consultation later this year, but that the ambition would be for all shops to be covered.
The only exemptions for the extended 5p levy are likely to be some pharmacies and pet shops selling goldfish.
At the Cabinet meeting, Mr Gove praised the results of a 5p plastic bag charge, which he said has resulted in a 90% decline in use, and promised a series of new initiatives on Thursday.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman added: “The Environment Secretary also said that he was working collaboratively with the Secretary of State for International Development to look at using aid money on the environmental agenda, such as reducing pollution by plastics.”
Video: Would a latte levy reduce waste?
Also under examination is a call from the all-party Environmental Audit Committee of MPs last week for urgent action to curb the mountain of up to five billion disposable coffee cups dumped each year, almost none of which are recycled.
Experts have estimated the levy could raise £438m and lead to a 30% reduction in the number of cups as more people carry their own.
The committee of MPs said the industry should be given five years to make the cups easy to recycle or face an outright ban.
Government sources have said ministers are open to the idea of a coffee cup charge if evidence shows it would change behaviour.
Mr Gove is also understood to be considering proposals to encourage retailers to use fewer types of plastic and to persuade councils to adopt a standardised recycling policy.
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The current patchwork of regimes means many types of plastic are not collected from households.
Together, the two measures are intended to ensure that a greater proportion of the packaging used in the UK can be recycled.