The decision to leave the European Union has created an historic opportunity to review our policies on agriculture, on land use, on biodiversity, on woodlands, marine conservation, fisheries, pesticide licensing, chemical regulation, animal welfare, habitat management, waste, water purity, air quality and so much more.
The Resources and Waste strategy, published last year, sets out plans to reduce plastic pollution with a target of eliminating all avoidable waste over the lifetime of the Government's 25 Year Environment Plan. The majority of aquatic litter originates from land-based sources therefore I believe the best approach to stemming the flow of plastic is by taking action on land.
The UK's world-leading ban on microbeads will help stop potentially billions of tiny pieces of plastic from entering the aquatic environment every year. As well as this, 15.6 billion fewer bags have been handed out to shoppers by the seven main retailers since the introduction of the plastic bag charge in 2015. I am also pleased that following an open consultation, a ban on the supply of plastic straws - excluding those needed for medical purposes - drinks stirrers and cotton buds will come into force in April next year.
Ministers have also consulted on a number of key policy measures which will significantly change the way we manage our waste. These include: reforming existing packaging waste regulations; exploring the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers; and increasing consistency in the recycling system; with a parallel consultation on the 'Plastic Packaging Tax' which the Chancellor announced in the Budget last year. The responses to these consultations will be published in due course.
On the Environment Bill, draft clauses on environmental principles and governance have now been published. I am encouraged that these clauses are only part of a broader Bill, which will include legislative measures to take direct action to address the biggest environmental priorities of our age: air quality, nature recovery, waste and resource efficiency, and water resource management.
Under the Scotland act the environment is devolved to the Scottish parliament, and more detail on the devolution settlement can be found online at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/devolution-settlement-scotland.
While issues on the environment are devolved, there are clear benefits in having strong cooperation, collaboration, and standards across the whole UK. I hope to see further constructive talks between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and their counterparts in the devolved administrations to ensure that biodiversity is protected, waterways cleaned, and habitats restored across the entire UK, particularly here in Scotland.
I am pleased that my Conservative colleagues in the Scottish Parliament have published Global Challenge, Local Leadership, a comprehensive position paper on the environment and climate change. It sets out ambitious plans across seven key areas, including the circular economy, biodiversity, energy, homes and transport. They either match or exceed existing targets, and more importantly also identify how they can be achieved.
Scotland has heard too many warm words and seen too much inaction when it comes to building a sustainable future. We need to set aside the notion that missed targets and slipping deadlines are something simply to be accepted, and instead adopt an approach that will enhance our wild lands, protect our fragile ecosystems and restore our forested and upland landscapes.
My colleagues and I believe in protecting and enhancing our natural heritage. We must do more than just repair damage, we must also improve our environment. I believe it is our duty to the next generation to leave Scotland a better place than we found it, that is why both I and my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament will continue to put pressure on the Scottish Government to see real progress in protecting the environment here in Scotland.