Documents considered by the Committee on 25 April 2018 Contents

11EU Plastics Strategy

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Cleared from scrutiny; drawn to the attention of the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Document details

Commission Communication: A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy

Legal base


Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Document Number

(39438), 5477/18 + ADDs 1–2, COM(18) 28

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

11.1To tackle challenges associated with plastic production and consumption, along with low reuse and recycling of plastic, the Commission proposed a plastics strategy with the aim of addressing three aspects in particular: high dependence on virgin fossil feedstock; the low rate of recycling and reuse of plastics; and the significant leakage of plastics into the environment.

11.2The Committee first considered this document at our meeting of 7 March, raising several concerns including the need for the Government to re-visit its assessment of the Brexit implications. The detail of the response from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Dr Thérèse Coffey) is set out below. In summary, she says:

11.3The Minister’s explanation of the ongoing engagement between the UK and the EU on these matters, even as the UK prepares to leave the EU, is helpful. We have no outstanding questions and are now content to clear this document from scrutiny. We draw the chapter to the attention of the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

Full details of the documents

Commission Communication: A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy: (39438), 5477/18 + ADDs 1–2, COM(18) 28.


11.4Further details of, and background to, the strategy were set out in our Report of 7 March 2018.152

11.5In her original EM,153 the Minister provided no detailed analysis nor specific comment on any of the suggestions. She considered the commitments to be helpful and that they appeared to be broadly consistent with UK ambitions, including the UK objective of zero avoidable plastics waste by 2042. The detail of the proposals needed development, she said, and so it was too early to know exactly how they would fit with the UK’s plans. Moving forward, she said, the Government would continue to work with the Commission to support the delivery of the strategy and the development of the UK’s own Resources and Waste Strategy later in 2018. The Minister insisted that there were no specific issues relating to the UK’s departure from the EU arising from the strategy.

11.6In our report of 7 March 2018, we disputed the Minister’s contention, considering that there are wide-ranging implications for the design of policy in the UK post-Brexit, assuming that at least some of the ideas come to fruition and assuming that some sort of co-operative and trading relationship is maintained between the UK and the EU. We therefore invited the Minister to re-visit her assessment of the Brexit implications, setting out a headline analysis of the potential implications for the UK post-Brexit. We also asked for information on:

The Minister’s letter of 9 April 2018154

11.7The Minister notes that the UK has welcomed the EU’s ambitions and, in particular, the emphasis placed on tackling the environmental impacts associated with plastics production, use and disposal. She agrees that the plastics strategy is broadly consistent with the UK’s own ambitions in this area, as set out in England’s 25 Year Environment Plan and as reflected in the high priority devoted in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to tackling plastic waste and developing their own ambitious targets for the circular economy and waste.

11.8Regarding the UK’s focus in influencing the development of the plastics strategy, the Minister notes that the Commission published a roadmap in January 2017 and Defra representatives attended expert working group meetings in 2017 where it was discussed. At the informal Environment Minister’s meeting in April 2017, at which the UK was represented by officials given the general election, the UK intervention at this meeting highlighted the impact of the five pence plastic bag charge, the proposals on microbeads and the need for evidence on other sources of microplastics to help inform future actions to protect the marine environment.

11.9In its contributions, the Government:

11.10Concerning future focus and action, the Minister draws attention to England’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which identifies the ambition to eradicate all avoidable plastic waste by 2024. It includes a list of actions to be taken at the production, consumption, end-of-use and end-of-life stages of the lifecycle to support this goal. The Plan also references collaborative industry action and examples of how the UK is demonstrating international leadership in this area. Since publication of the Plan, the Government has also launched a call for evidence on how the tax system or charges could reduce single-use plastic waste.

11.11Concerning the list of measures recommended to national authorities and industry, the Government is supportive of all measures that align with the actions set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan. The detail of individual proposals will need to be considered, however, before the Government can set out its position on them. It will also be important to ensure that local circumstances and implications for businesses and consumers are taken into account.

11.12The Minister goes on to remind the Committee of the provisions of the EU Withdrawal Bill, clarifying that retained EU law will not include EU Directives but will include Statutory instruments made under s.2(2) ECA and which transpose those Directives. She also reminds the Committee that the UK is leaving the EU and will cease to be a member of its institutions. The Government, she says, is negotiating the terms of how the UK will operate during the proposed implementation period.

11.13The Minister acknowledges that some of the initiatives, such as the review of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes, will have direct implications for UK policies post-Brexit. She adds:

“What is unclear is how specifically the strategy will impact on those proposals moving forward. We will continue to monitor developments at the EU level in order to consider how these might impact on UK businesses and trade and on our own policy ambitions as and when these details emerge. Matters relating to transposition are still subject to discussion.”

11.14In terms of future engagement in EU policy, the Minister welcomes the Commission’s parallel work proposing possible options to address the interface between chemical, product and waste legislation. She explains:

“The lack of coherent policy integration on these issues creates a barrier for circular business models, eco-innovation and the effective management of hazardous chemicals (substances of very high concern, such as persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic substances), leading to impacts on human health and the environment. We will continue to engage in discussions on options for overcoming the key challenges identified by the Commission and will ensure that the implementation challenges for manufacturers and industry are considered in these discussions so that practical solutions can be identified to protect human health and wildlife.”

11.15The Minister goes on to acknowledge that there are synergies between the UK’s proposed approach to tackling the environmental impacts of plastics and the proposals outlined in the plastics strategy. The UK is looking to develop a deep and special relationship with the EU and will want to continue to cooperate with the EU on this important issue as well as meeting wider international commitments in this area, through fora such as the UN and the G7 Resource Efficiency Alliance.

11.16The Minister concludes with reference to stakeholder engagement:

“We have no plans for a formal consultation on the Commission’s strategy. However, it includes proposals which are also among those we have been considering as part of the process to develop our new resources and waste strategy. We will be holding a number of stakeholder workshops to test policy ideas and gather feedback and will consult with other Government departments, the devolved administrations and other interested parties as necessary as specific actions are taken forward.”

Previous Committee Reports

Seventeenth Report HC 301–xvii (2017–19), chapter 1 (7 March 2018).

152 Seventeenth Report HC 301–xvii (2017–19), chapter 1 (7 March 2018).

153 Explanatory Memorandum dated 31 January 2018.

154 Letter from Dr Thérèse Coffey to Sir William Cash dated 9 April 2018.

Published: 1 May 2018