North Devon MP calls for more action on plastic pollution

Volunteers in Croyde regularly clean the beach

Volunteers in Croyde regularly clean the beach - Credit: Selaine Saxby

The Government has announced that Tobacco companies may have to pay for the litter created by cigarettes under plans being explored by ministers to protect the environment and save local councils money. 

The move comes after fresh evidence reveals that cleaning up littered cigarette butts currently costs UK local authorities around £40 million per year. Despite smoking rates being at their lowest recorded level, cigarette filters continue to be the most commonly littered item in England. 

Among the options being looked at by Ministers is a regulatory, extended producer responsibility scheme for cigarette butts in England, a new power currently being legislated for in the Environment Bill. This would require the tobacco industry to pay the full disposal costs of tobacco waste products, ensuring the sector takes sufficient financial responsibility for the litter its products create. 

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Cigarette butts are a blight on our communities, littering our streets or ending up washed down the drain and polluting our rivers and oceans. 

We must all take action to protect our environment. We are committed to making sure that the tobacco industry plays its part. That is why we are exploring how cigarette companies can be held fully accountable for the unsightly scourge of litter created by their products.” 

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According to Keep Britain Tidy research, smoking related litter is the most prevalent form of litter in England, making up 68% of all littered items and found on around 80% of surveyed sites. 

The vast majority of cigarette butts are single-use plastic and contain hundreds of toxic chemicals once smoked. Littered cigarette filters can persist in the environment for many years and release these chemicals to air, land and water, harming plant growth and wildlife. 

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As set out in the Litter Strategy for England, the most effective way to tackle smoking related litter is by reducing the prevalence of smoking in the first place. The Government says it is committed to addressing the harms from smoking and will publish a new tobacco control plan for England later this year to deliver its ambition of a smoke-free country by 2030. 

The Environment Bill will allow us to legislate for extended producer responsibility schemes, which could be applied to tobacco products. Cigarette and tobacco product packaging is already covered by the proposed packaging producer responsibility scheme, which is currently undergoing a second phase for consultation. 

Selaine Saxby MP for North Devon said: “Over Easter weekend, I twice visited the beach not to surf or row, but rather to pick up other people’s litter. Far too many visitors to our community do not bin their own rubbish, and so we rely on countless volunteers selflessly giving up their time to clean our beaches. To make matters worse, this is not a local problem, and the level of rubbish in the oceans is such that we are now seeing an increasing amount swept in by the tide twice a day too. At Croyde beach particularly the volume of microplastics and nurdles coming ashore is truly shocking. 

“One new Government policy that would certainly have made the beach cleaning a bit quicker is the announcement that cigarette companies may have to contribute up to £40 million towards cleaning up rubbish left by their products. 

“While selfless volunteers go some way towards rectifying the selfish wrong of litterers, holding tobacco firms fully accountable for rubbish created by their products will certainly help reduce the overall level of litter. 

“Having seen the scale of the problem with microplastics and nurdles at Croyde, I am also keen to see what further steps can be taken to reduce our reliance on single use plastics, and ensure we rapidly reduce the amount of plastic waste on our beaches and in our oceans. 

“We can and do need to more, as a Government, but also as a society and individuals. I will be taking part in more litter picking events June and I do encourage everyone locally to consider following Plastic Free North Devon and pitching in.” 

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