The British parliament has announced that it will be the latest to crackdown on single-use plastic, pledging to eliminate “all avoidable single-use plastics” by 2019. 

Disposable coffee cups and plastic water bottles will be off the shopping list for parliament from this summer. Straws, plastic bags, condiment sachets, and stationery will all also be targeted.

The parliamentary estate — which is home to the House of Commons and the House of Lords — announced on Tuesday that it will be using compostable or reusable packaging options instead. 

Labour MP Mary Creagh, chair of the environmental audit committee, said it was an "important step to creating the world's first plastic-free parliament." 

Take action: Call on Governments and Business Leaders to Say No to Single-Use Plastics

“Our aim is to remove, as far as possible, disposable plastic items from the parliamentary estate,” said Sir Paul Beresford MP, chair of the commons administration committee, describing the measures as “ambitious and wide-ranging.” 

Lord Laming, chair of the House of Lords services committee, said parliament “must lead the way in valuing our environmental future over convenience.” 

“We all have a responsibility in this so it’s time to really start to think about the steps everyone can take to reduce their plastic use and I hope the measures parliament will implement over the next 12 months will inspire other organisations and people to make changes in their everyday lives,” he said. 

Read more: 16 Times Countries and Cities Have Banned Single-Use Plastics

These are some of the steps being taken: 

  • Water fountains and refill stations will be introduced, to cut out plastic bottles.
  • A 25p “latte levy” on disposable cups will begin, to encourage use of reusable alternatives.
  • Plastic cutlery and food packaging will be replaced by compostable alternatives. 
  • Plastic bags will be replaced by paper or fabric bags.
  • Introduction of a “green stationery” catalogue. 
  • Condiment sachets to be replaced by sauce dispensers.

Environmental group Surfers Against Sewage, behind the Plastic Free Parliament campaign, said it welcomed parliament’s “meaningful action to eliminate avoidable single-use plastic.” 

Read more: 9 Brilliant Ways the UK Is Cracking Down on Plastic Pollution

“This ambitious plan should set an example to other institutions and large-scale businesses to decouple from throwaway plastics as soon as possible,” said CEO Hugo Tagholm. 

“Eliminating and replacing avoidable plastics can be done, and this proves it can be achieved quickly,” he said. “Changes to go plastic-free at scale will play a huge part in stopping plastic pollution from choking our oceans, countryside, and city streets.”

“The time for change is now if we want a plastic-free future,” he said.

An investigation by the campaign group found that over 2 million avoidable single-use plastic items were bought by the House of Commons and House of Lords in 2017. 

Read more: Scientists Found a Plastic Grocery Bag in the Ocean's Deepest Trench

But campaigners, while welcoming the changes, have also called for ministers to be inspired by their new plastic-free environment, and go further in rolling out those measures to the rest of the country. 

Creagh added that wider action is needed to truly stamp out single-use plastics. 

“Parliament’s action stands in stark contrast to ministers who consult, announce and re-announce, but never seem to do anything to turn back the plastic tide,” she said.

“The government should follow parliament’s lead and introduce a ‘latte levy’ for coffee cups, a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, and make sure that those who produce the packaging pay to recycle it,” she added.

Parliament's move is the latest in a string of efforts across the country to cut down on plastic pollution, sparked by Sir David Attenborough's 2017 documentary series "Blue Planet II." The momentum has been carried on by supermarkets, retailers, coffee chains, and members of the public, including through the introduction of plastic-free aisles, schemes to eliminate disposable coffee cups, bans on plastic straws, and lots more. 

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, which include action on improving life on land, life below water, and creating sustainable cities and communities. You can join us by taking action here to call on business leaders and governments to scrap single-use plastics.


Defend the Planet

The UK Wants to Be the 'World's First' Plastic-Free Parliament

By Imogen Calderwood