Wales taking innovative steps in order to protect the environment is really nothing new. This is, after all, the country that created ground-breaking laws to ensure nature is preserved for the next generation (Future Generations Act), has outlined lofty plans to increase tree cover with a country-spanning National Forest, and was one of the first countries in the world to introduce a charge for plastic bags (in an attempt to discourage use).
But a bold new bill potentially marks the country's most direct action in the battle to tackle the climate and nature emergencies.
The proposed policy would create a ban on single-use plastics across the country, making it an offence for retailers to supply or offer disposable single-use plastic products to consumers in Wales.
The proposal, titled the Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) Bill, will target throw-away plastic food utensils such as cutlery, plates, lids and stirrers, as well as single-use plastic bags, in an aim to stop the scourge of plastic litter that ends up polluting the nation’s countryside and oceans. If the bill is successfully passed, Wales will become the first nation in the UK to outlaw plastic bags.
The initiative also aims to reduce Wales’ carbon footprint (with most plastics being produced using fossil fuels), as well as improve the country’s recycling levels, an area Wales already excels in – the country is currently ranked as the world’s third-best domestic recycler.
Speaking about the bill, Wales’ Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, said, “This is a big moment in our journey towards a plastic-free Wales. Single-use plastic products are often seen littered in our streets, parks and seas. Not only are they unsightly, but they have a devastating impact on our wildlife and environment.
“We have to say no to the single-use item culture, so we avoid leaving a toxic legacy of plastic for future generations to deal with,” she added.
The plastic products featured on the ban are all said to have non-plastic or reusable alternatives. The bill also grants the Welsh Government the power to add or remove products to the list, as consumer habits evolve.
The bill follows a long-established trend of local attempts to reduce plastic use in the country, with the island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn), off the north coast of Wales, the first county in the UK to be awarded Plastic Free Community status by marine conservation group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) in 2019, in response to the island's efforts to minimise its reliance on the synthetic material. Plastic clean-up groups are common in Wales too, with organisations like Cardiff Rivers Group removing roughly 500 tonnes of litter each year from the environment, much of it plastic.
Read more about how Wales is becoming an increasingly sustainable nation.