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Prime Minister Theresa May walks through the grounds of the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, west London. Credit: PA Images.

Let’s hope that Theresa May’s plastic policy isn’t fake

Today, Theresa May announced a 25-year plan to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste. According to the BBC “supermarkets will be urged to introduce ‘plastic-free’ aisles” and “charges on single-use items such as takeaway containers will be considered.”

At first sight, the quarter-century timeframe would appear to lack urgency. However, that’s to underestimate the extent to which plastic is woven into the way we live our lives (sometimes literally, as in the case of the non-biodegradable teabags). Eliminating plastic from its use in packaging, disposable products and global supply chains is the work of a generation.

Crucial to the plan’s long-term success will be definitions and legislation. For instance, what does “avoidable” mean in the context of “avoidable plastic waste”? And how will nationally and internationally-agreed objectives be embodied in law?

As we’ve seen in the case of power generation and car manufacturing, entire industrial sectors will make big strategic shifts to clean technology – but only as long as government sets a clear lead. When businesses are investing billions, they don’t want to be undermined by fickle politicians who abandon green pledges as soon as the short-term news agenda moves elsewhere. Political risk pushes up investment risk and therefore the cost of transitioning to non-polluting technologies.

The kind of throwaway populism that attacks environmentalism in the name of the consumer only makes a better world more expensive than it needs to be.

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