Theresa May has called for ‘plastic-free’ supermarket aisles selling loose food as part of a strategy to eliminate avoidable plastic waste in the next 25 years.

In a speech today (11 January), the Prime Minister launched the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, setting out a strategy designed to create better habitats for wildlife, improve air and water quality and reduce waste.

A major element of the plan is a crackdown on plastics that includes:

  • Rationalising packaging formats and materials, so that more plastics can be easily recycled and the quality of recycled plastics is improved
  • Extending uptake of the 5p plastic bag charge to small retailers, and exploring whether compulsory options are needed if voluntary agreements are ineffective
  • Supporting water companies, retailers, coffee shops and transport hubs to offer refill points for people to top-up water bottles for free in every major city and town in England
  • Working with retailers and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to explore introducing plastic-free supermarket aisles in which all the food is loose.

“In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how, today, we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly,” said May. “In the UK alone, the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls.

“This plastic is ingested by dozens of species of marine mammals and over 100 species of sea birds, causing immense suffering to individual creatures and degrading vital habitats.

“We must reduce the demand for plastic, reduce the number of plastics in circulation and improve our recycling rates. To tackle it we will take action at every stage of the production and consumption of plastic.”

The plastic on wrapped bread is recyclable but few local authorities currently collect it as part of their kerbside services. Instead, onsumers would need to take it a recycling point, often found at supermarkets, to be recycled alongside carrier bags.

The Federation of Bakers points out that, gram for gram, bread uses less packaging than any food or drink except for fruit and vegetables, and that it is typically delivered in returnable plastic trays.

Responding to today’s announcement, the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) said it would be studying the details of the plan, and hoped it would help create a long-term framework in which businesses could operate.

“It is pleasing to note that the Prime Minister remains committed to an evidence-based approach to establishing the best way to deal with plastic waste and will consult widely,” added FDF chief scientific officer Helen Munday.

 “FDF strongly supports initiatives to reduce waste throughout the food and drink value chain and to increase resource efficiency.”