Michael Gove threw his weight behind a comprehensive plastic bottle recycling scheme today as he warned time is running out to repair the damage human beings have done to the planet.
In a speech at Kew Gardens in London the Environment Secretary said there was a political, economic and moral imperative to tackle climate change and reverse wildlife loss.
He outlined ambitious proposals for what he described as a “world leading” Environment Act, to match the success of the Climate Change Act of 2008.
He said it would include the creation of an Office of Environment Protection with tough powers to take legal action on a range of environmental issues, including reducing carbon emissions.
It was his intention that the new body would have “real teeth’ and would be able take central government to court if necessary, the Environment Secretary said.
The speech will be seen as a signal to the two Tory leadership contenders that Mr Gove is keen to stay in his post at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) after Theresa May leaves office next week.
Mr Gove announced that he favours an “all in” deposit return recycling scheme that would cover all sizes of bottles.
This would give the public “the greatest possible incentive” to recycle, he told the audience at Kew.
Large retailers have lobbied against such a scheme, warning it could cost as much as £1bn to administer.
But deposit schemes in Europe have boosted recycling. The idea is that a deposit – a few pence – would be added to the price of a drink.
The deposit is paid back when empties are returned to retailers.
Sam Chetan-Welsh, political adviser for Greenpeace UK, said: “Michael Gove’s call for urgency and UK leadership is spot on. By backing an all-inclusive deposit return scheme for bottles and cans, and pledging to force big business to finally foot the bill for the masses of plastic rubbish they create, Gove’s pledges give the next government a good place to start.
“But tangible commitments on climate were notably absent. The next government must speed up the ban on petrol and diesel vehicles, triple renewable power over the next decade, end fracking and Heathrow’s third runway, and boost investment in insulating our homes.”
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) also welcomed the deposit return scheme. Maddy Haughton-Boakes, litter campaigner for the organisation, said: “This is the strongest signal yet of the government’s intention to transform the way that we deal with the waste created by drinks containers, preventing them from choking our countryside, streets, rivers and oceans.
“These comments are another step forward from the government’s work to meet the ambitious targets laid out in its Resources and Waste Strategy.”
The Environment Secretary said 2020 would be a critical year which will decide the future of the planet.
The UK is bidding to host key UN climate talks next year at which countries are expected to present more ambitious plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions to avoid dangerous global warming.
There are also key international conferences on protecting wildlife and the oceans.
“The scale of action required may be daunting, but the need to act is imperative”, Mr Gove warned.
He described it as a moral requirement. “We are partners in the great chain of evolution with the rest of nature and endowed as we are with reason we therefore have the responsibility to steward and protect”, the Environment Secretary said.
Follow Justin on Twitter.