Liberal Democrats demand international treaty on plastics

The Liberal Democrats have demanded the Government initiate negotiations within the UN for a legally binding international treaty on plastics.

The treaty, set out at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, would encompass phased reductions in the production, consumption and trade of virgin feedstock.

It would also include a financial mechanism providing aid and capacity-building assistance to developing countries.

Speaking after the debate, Tim Farron said: 

“The problem with plastics is not only on our shores. It is a problem that impacts the environment, communities and wildlife across the globe.

“The Government therefore has a duty to lead from the front and start weaning the world off plastics. But instead of leadership on the environment, all this Conservative Government offers is empty words.

“Liberal Democrats demand better. That is why we are calling for real international action to save our environment from the scourge of single-use plastics.”

Lib Dem Spokesperson for North East Derbyshire, Ross Shipman said:

“In North East Derbyshire i am sure we all have some concerns about plastics, especially given our pro fracking overlords INEOS will be using some of the extracted shale gas to produce specialised plastics which are very difficult and in some cases impossible to recycle.”

“I welcome my party’s policy as a step in the right direction to stop the demand for the products produced by the likes of INEOS.”

You can join the Liberal Democrats to fight for our environment by visiting www.libdems,


Please see the text for motion F29 ‘Plastic Pollution and UN Sustainable Development Goals’ below.


  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.
  5. Believes that Local Authorities should be key players in reducing plastic usage.

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.

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 this 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 fulfills its own responsibilities in this regard in practice.

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