Michael Gove has unveiled plans for a deposit return scheme for drinks bottles in an attempt to boost recycling.
The Environment Secretary told the Tory Party conference the move would help tackle pollution, with more than eight million tonnes of plastic dumped in the world’s oceans each year
The Government will now consult on a so-called “reward and return” scheme, exploring how the littering of plastic, metal and glass drinks containers could be reduced.
“We are looking to go further to reduce plastic waste by working with industry to see how we could introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles,” Mr Gove told the main conference hall in Manchester.
“Our oceans are our planet’s greatest natural resource and this government is determined to ensure we restore them to health for the next generation.”
Up to 80% of the dumped plastic in the ocean is thought to have been lost or discarded on land before it ends up in the sea.
Some 57% of plastic bottles sold in the UK in 2016 were collected for recycling.
This compares with 90% of deposit-marked cans and bottles that were returned to recycling facilities in Denmark, and a return rate of almost 80% of drinks containers in South Australia, both of which have a form of deposit return scheme.
Greenpeace Oceans campaigner Elena Polisano said the “continuous stream” of disposable plastic bottles into the ocean “has been growing alarmingly”.
She added: “We urgently need solutions, and we think a bottle return scheme like those being looked at by Michael Gove, and by the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments, is probably the best way to raise collection rates and turn that stream into a loop.”
The call for evidence opens on Monday for four weeks.
Ministers have asked the working group to report back early in the New Year.
Mr Gove told party activists this followed on from the plastic bag charge and a ban on plastic microbeads.
Elsewhere in his speech, Mr Gove received rapturous applause when he confirmed the Tories would extend the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences from six months to five years.
The leading Leave campaigner also promised a “green Brexit” that would boost environmental standards.
He said outside the EU the UK could “stop subsidising the rich on the basis of how much land they own” when it leaves the Common Agricultural Policy, as well as boosting marine conservation and ensuring British fishermen w