MPs have attacked a three-month delay since the Chancellor pledged to tackle the huge environmental damage from plastic pollution – protesting that no action has followed.
In his November Budget, Philip Hammond vowed to investigate new charges to make the UK a “world leader in tackling the scourge of plastic littering our planet and our oceans”.
“We cannot keep our promise to the next generation to build an economy fit for the future unless we ensure our planet has a future,” he told the Commons.
But, three months later, the Treasury has failed to start a consultation on what action to take, or even explain which Government department will run it.
The protest comes from the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, which has – in the meantime – recommended a 25p charge is levied on all drinks sold in disposable cups, which are lined with polyethylene.
Mary Creagh, the committee’s chairwoman, said: “Pollution from single use plastic packaging is choking our oceans and devastating marine wildlife.
“Three months ago, ministers promised to look at using the tax system reduce the use of throwaway plastics, but still have not published a call for evidence.
“The Government has talked the talk on plastics pollution, but it has been too slow to walk the walk.”
In a stinging letter, sent to Mr Hammond and Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, the committee demands to know when ministers will set out action to curb the “700,000 plastic bottles that are littered every day”.
“These are just one example of single-use plastics that can end up in our seas and oceans, killing wildlife and breaking down into harmful microplastics,” Ms Creagh added.
In response, the Treasury insisted a call for evidence would be issued “shortly” – but could not say if a consultation on proposed measures would follow.
Mr Hammond won praise for his Budget speech, when he said: “Audiences across the country, glued to Blue Planet II, have been starkly reminded of the problems of plastics pollution.
“The UK led the world on climate change agreements, and is a pioneer in protecting marine environments.
“Now I want us to become a world leader in tackling the scourge of plastic littering our planet and our oceans.”
Since then, Mrs May has delivered the first major speech on the environment from a sitting prime minister since 2004 and published a 25-year green plan with the ambition of abolishing plastic waste by 2042.
However, it was widely criticised for being vague, for the lack of proposed legislation and for the lengthy timescales for dealing with various problems.
Meanwhile, Mr Gove appeared cool towards the audit committee’s call for the 25p so-called “latte levy”, to change people’s behaviour and fund better waste reprocessing facilities.
However, a poll for The Independent – which is campaigning for the charge – found that most people backed it and agreed it would persuade them to stop using the cups.
The Treasury spokeswoman said: “We’re fully committed to reducing the use of harmful single-use plastics – and the damage they cause to the world’s oceans and wildlife.
“Our call for evidence – launching shortly – will build on Britain’s world-leading ban on microbeads and plastic bag charge, forming a major part of the government’s 25 year Environment Plan.”