The committee has called on the Government to:
- Introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic drinks bottles
- Introduce a requirement for all public premises that serve food and drink to provide free drinking water
- Increase the number of public water fountains
- Make producers financially responsible for the plastic packaging they produce and to phase in a mandated 50% recycled plastic content in plastic bottles, to be achieved by 2023 at the latest.
The call comes as part of the ECA's report Plastic Bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide, which was published today (22 December), following a major enquiry into packaging in the UK.
The report asks for the introduction of a UK-wide deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, a requirement to provide free drinking water in public premises, and to make producers financially responsible for the plastic packaging they produce.
According to the report, plastic bottles make up a third of all plastic pollution in the sea, and said if marine plastic pollution continues to rise at its current rate, the amount of plastic in the sea will outweigh fish by 2050.
The rising tide of plastic waste in the ocean has been described by UN-Oceans, a group that bids to co-ordinate the UN with oceanic and coastal matters, as a “planetary crisis” and there is increasing public appetite for urgent action in this area, it said.
The report said: "Access to clean drinking water is a basic human right. The Government should prioritise reducing the use of plastic bottles. We believe that small changes can deliver big results. The UK has a ready supply of safe, clean tap water, yet the consumption of bottled water continues to grow.
"We have heard that providing more free drinking water taps and fountains in public spaces could lead to a 65% reduction in the use of plastic water bottles, but there is no obligation for unlicensed premises to provide free drinking water.
"We call on the Government to introduce a regulation for all public premises that serve food or drink to provide free drinking water on request, including sports centres and leisure centres. Businesses should volunteer to get involved with community water schemes such as Refill Bristol to advertise their provision of free drinking water."
The EAC said it heard evidence that the general public often "feel uncomfortable" asking for bottle refills in licensed restaurants, cafés and bars.
"BRITA UK’s research found that 71% of people feel uncomfortable asking for a glass of tap water when out and about," said the report.
"In England, Wales and Scotland, licensed premises are legally obliged to provide free drinking water to customers on request. However they are allowed to charge for service or the use of a glass if they wish."
The regulation to provide drinking water in licensed premises was introduced to encourage people to drink water while consuming alcoholic beverages. Accordingly there is no obligation for unlicensed premises, such as sports centres, cinemas, shops, cafés, bus and railway stations and tourist centres to provide free drinking water.
Approximately 13bn plastic bottles are used each year in the UK. Only 7.5bn are recycled.
While the introduction of household collection has improved the recycling rate of plastic bottles, from 1% in 2001 to 57% today, the EAC heard that recycling of plastic bottles has flat-lined in the past five years.
This results in 5.5bn plastic bottles being sent to landfill, littered or incinerated each year. That figure includes 700,000 plastic bottles being littered every day.