Liberal Democrats

F29 Plastic Pollution and UN Sustainable Development Goals

Submitted by Cheltenham

Mover: Cllr Martin Horwood | Summator: Cllr Jane Brophy

This motion applies to    󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

The UN Sustainable Development Goals were adopted in 2015. They include ambitious targets for cleaner water, better health, reduced pollution, more recycling, less waste and more sustainable production and - in Goal 14 - the reduction of marine pollution, including floating plastic debris. The SDGs are for all nations not just the developing world, giving the UK a clear responsibility to act. This motion begins by reiterating Liberal Democrat support for the SDGs.

But many of these goals are being undermined by plastic. Plastic is low cost, waterproof, durable and endlessly flexible so we produce billions of tonnes of plastic. The government has recently banned microbeads in cosmetics in the UK, but microscopic particles of plastic can also come from packaging and plastic products.

The impact of plastic on the wider environment is growing too. There is plastic pollution in deserts and in Arctic sea ice. Every day some 8 million plastic pieces enter our seas. 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million sea birds are killed by marine plastic pollution annually.  

The government has made a slow start but this motion commits Lib Dems to do much more: banning non-recyclable single-use plastics with affordable alternatives, improving labelling and public information and requiring all retailers to reduce packaging with a three-year target to make all plastic packaging either unnecessary, re-usable or recyclable. It calls for a deposit return scheme on all food and drink bottles and containers and would make the polluters pay by charging businesses that produce plastics or use them for their products a levy to contribute towards the cost of recycling.


  1. Notes and fully supports the UN's sustainable development goal 14 which includes targets to reduce marine pollution.
  2. Recognises that marine pollution is a global problem which requires both international co-operation and local community action to eradicate.
  3. Recognises that the use of plastic, especially single use plastic, has become a major environmental problem.
  4. Recognises that designing plastics out is the preferred option.

Conference welcomes:

  1. The UN pledge made by nearly 200 countries, including the United Kingdom, to eliminate plastic from the sea.
  2. The European Commission's proposed ban on the most common single-use plastic items, along with other measures to reduce the amount of plastic waste reaching the oceans.
  3. The voluntary pledge by supermarkets to cut plastic packaging.
  4. The decision by supermarkets, retailers, restaurants and pubs to end the use of plastic straws.
  5. Believes that Local Authorities should be key players in reducing plastic usage.

Conference deplores the failure of the Government to respond adequately to the seriousness and urgency of this issue and therefore calls for legislation to be introduced:

  1. Banning non-recyclable single-use plastics with affordable alternatives; with a target for their complete elimination within a three-year period.
  2. Requiring all retailers and other organisations to reduce the amount of plastic and non-recyclable packaging they use, with immediate action to eliminate hard-to-recycle items such as black plastic and a three-year target to make all plastic packaging either unnecessary, re-usable or recyclable.
  3. Setting targets for large public organisations, such as the NHS, to reduce their use of plastic and find alternatives.
  4. Implementing a deposit system on all food and drink bottles and containers whether they are made from glass, plastic or other materials.
  5. Requiring all retailers and businesses that produce plastics or use them for their products to pay a levy to contribute towards the cost of necessary recycling services and for larger retailers to be subject to a right of return for waste packaging.
  6. Working in partnership with local authorities to:
    1. Produce an action plan to deliver the target leading to the elimination of single use plastic within three years in their local authority area.
    2. Prepare audit trails to demonstrate that plastics are recycled where they cannot be re-used.
    3. Support the formation of local community action groups to assist in delivering the statutory target and provide financial incentives to such groups starting community-wide initiatives including, but not limited to, waste-free shops and cafes.
    4. Introduce a nation-wide standard for the disposal and recycling of key plastics.
    5. Ensure the widespread availability of free drinking water taps.
    6. Resolve any issues relating to the funding and legislative powers required to deliver the required outcomes.
  7. Creating an international task force to work in developing countries on initiatives supporting the elimination of single use plastic in those countries.

Conference further calls on the government to initiate negotiations within the UN for a legally binding international treaty on plastics, including phased reductions in the production, consumption and trade of virgin feedstock, thus encouraging reuse and recycling, and a financial mechanism providing aid and capacity-building assistance to developing countries.

Furthermore, such legislation should:

  1. Place a duty on all governmental organisations to promote the need to reduce packaging of any sort, particularly plastic products, and to replace plastic packaging where possible with compostable materials that are safe to be used for vegetable growing.
  2. Introduce a legal requirement to label all packaging with recyclability information.
  3. Require a public information and education campaign to be delivered through all governmental agencies, organisations receiving public funding and public bodies including schools, colleges and universities.
  4. Provide that, where the use of plastic remains unavoidable, there should be a requirement on all retailers only to use any plastics or other materials that can be recycled through existing or new recycling services or that can be re-used.

Conference calls on Liberal Democrats to:

  1. Campaign for the implementation of these policies and to highlight the impact of plastic pollution in their communities.
  2. Introduce and implement policies through their elected representatives - Councillors, MPs, AMs, MSPs and MEPs - to reduce plastic pollution where they are in a position to do so.
  3. Work through parliaments and assemblies for the introduction of legislation outlined in this motion.
  4. Ensure our own Party fulfils its own responsibilities in this regard in practice.

Applicability: England only; except B (lines 25-29), a) and b) (lines 53-59) and 2 and 3 (lines 71-75) which are Federal.