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In his Budget Statement in November last year, Chancellor, Philip Hammond, made the call for a consultation into the possible implementation of a tax on single-use plastics. This, he said, would help the UK take a leading position on "tackling the scourge of plastics" littering the planet and oceans. He indicated that the call was part of a wider plan due to be outlined by the Government in the New Year. In the same week, public reaction to the BBC's documentary, Blue Planet II, saw the spotlight turned on plastics unlike ever before. In reaction, the BPF urged the Government to look at options that address the "root cause of the problem" of marine litter, rather than "embracing seemingly quick-win, populist strategies."


Fast-forward to January 11 and Prime Minister, Theresa May, launched her 25-year environmental plan, which saw the Government pledge to get rid of all 'avoidable' plastic waste by 2042. She also encouraged a 'plastic-free aisle' in supermarkets. Despite the plan containing considerable detail on the reform of the UK's agriculture and fisheries management, creating new wildlife habitats and tackling air pollution, it was undoubtedly the 'war on plastics' that stole the mainstream media headlines.

The plan also saw plans made to extend the 5p single-use carrier bag tax introduced in 2015 to include every retailer--where previously it had only applied to stores with more than 250 employees. The Prime Minister's announcements came in the same week as a recommendation from parliament's Environmental Audit Committee to introduce a levy on takeaway coffee cups, amidst concerns over the 99 per cent of cups sent to landfill.

Speaking to Andrew Marr on his BBC politics show, Ms May said the plastic carrier bag levy had been impressive: "We now see nine billion fewer plastic bags being used... it's making a real difference. We want to do the same in relation to single plastic use - nobody who watched 'Blue Planet' will doubt the need to do something." She also referenced the recent ban on plastics microbeads as an example of the Government's commitment to protecting the environment in action.

In order to achieve the goals outlined in its environmental plan, the Government said it intends to "minimise waste, reuse materials as much as we can and at the end of their life to minimise the impact on the environment". It also pledged to meet all existing waste targets--including those on landfill, reuse and recycling--and develop "ambitious" new future targets and milestones. Delivering a substantial reduction in litter and littering behaviour was also key, it said, and it pledged to fund plastics innovation in the materials science sector.


Commenting, Marcus Gover, CEO of WRAP, the plastics recycling advocacy group which will join the Government's action in the 25 year plan, said: "So far the solutions to plastic waste have been piecemeal.

I am pleased to be leading this holistic initiative which will transform the UK's plastics system. Working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, we will bring together every 'body, business and organisation' involved in the life-cycle of plastics to make the move from a throw away culture to one where resources are used over and over again."

Ellen MacArthur, who has led a high-profile circular economy campaign for a decade, said: "Creating a circular economy for plastics amounts to a huge opportunity for the economy as well as providing a longer-term benefit for the environment." Achieving it, she added, will require close collaboration and significant commitment from industry, government, and society at large.

"For plastic to become valued and never become waste it's imperative that everybody from those producing it (brands, retailers, food service businesses, packaging suppliers and plastic producers), collecting it (local and city authorities), sorting it and recycling it (waste management and recycling sector), to those using it (citizens) as well as Government, NGOs and media are involved. Everyone in the UK can and should engage."


In reaction to the announcements in the 25-year plan, the BPF said it welcomed the "much needed reform" of the regulatory regime currently governing packaging recovery and recycling to nurture a "full-blooded domestic recycling culture that is not dependent upon the export of waste for recycling overseas." It welcomed too the commitment by the Government to a higher level of funding for plastics innovation.

However, the BPF said it was "very disturbed" by the tone of language used in the speech made by the Prime Minister, particularly the lack of recognition of the benefits of plastics, including energy-saving, food waste prevention and the provision of some 170,000 jobs in the UK. "By encouraging plastic-free aisles, the government is creating an impression that the use of plastics is inherently wrong. Typically, food waste in stores increases by a third without packaging," it said.

The BPF echoed its previous stance on marine litter, adding that it is right that the UK, alongside other developed nations, should set an example of best practice. It said a tougher stance on littering was priority for reducing waste ending up in the ocean environment from the West, and it is "highly doubtful" that offering alternative materials for packaging would be effective in changing the mindset of offenders.

"We look forward to working with government to help the UK progress towards a truly circular economy by helping to reduce littering, significantly increasing recycling infrastructure, ensuring all packaging used for food and drink consumed 'on the go' is captured for recycling, encouraging design for recyclability and the use of recycled material in new low carbon products," it said.


Peterborough-based recycler, Vanden Recycling, said the Government's plans offered "sensible suggestions" in recognising the challenges and opportunities to develop the domestic UK recycling sector. However, it said short-term solutions were needed, particularly in light of China's implementation of a new waste ban.

"I welcome the sensible suggestions put forward in the 25-year Environment Plan," said Vanden's Managing Director, David Wilson. "However, as recently calculated by us, 350,000 tonnes of material that was once exported to China will struggle to find a home in 2018. I hope the Government's commitment to plastic recycling will now lead to more solutions in the short-term to stimulate plastic recycling in the UK, and ensure material is of high quality for export to recycling facilities abroad. If it takes 25 years to reach some of these aims, that will be too long for the development of an economically sustainable plastics recycling sector in the UK."

Vanden Recycling said it would welcome Government proposals that include an emphasis on local material collections that return high quality materials back to the economy, as well as working with industry to rationalise packaging formats, and finally, the idea of reforming producer responsibility systems, including packaging waste regulations, to incentivise producers to take more responsibility including creating a better market for recycled plastic.


The UK's retailers have each reacted differently in their ambitions to reform their use of packaging. Tesco, the nation's largest retailer, has backed the implementation of a deposit return scheme (DRS) for plastic bottles and Waitrose has committed to eliminating all black plastics packaging for its own-label products by the end of 2019.

Perhaps the boldest move is by Iceland, which committed to becoming the first major retailer globally to eliminate plastic packaging from all its own brand products. The UK's frozen food specialist announced that it aims to complete this process in the next five years. The chain says it wants to remove plastic packaging from about 1,000 products by 2023, hoping to sell food at its 900 shops packed in paper. Iceland Managing Director, Richard Walker, referenced the "truckload of plastics entering the ocean environment every minute" as a driver for change, adding the "onus is on retailers" to make it happen. He also pledged support for fully recyclable packaging and the implementation of a DRS in the UK.

The BPF reacted with a statement expressing surprise at Iceland's announcement. "Plastic packaging is used because it vastly reduces food waste and is resource efficient," it said. "If Iceland implement these measures, there is a risk that the weight of the packaging, carbon emissions, food waste and the amount of energy to make that packaging will increase. Growing and transporting food consumes a lot more energy than that used to make the packaging protecting it. Iceland's proposals target products that will have absolutely no impact on reducing marine litter, which in the UK typically comes from items littered outside our homes. Its environmental footprint will increase, not decrease."

In addition, where a DRS is concerned, the BPF has previously stated its reservations about the implementation of such a scheme, citing the cost to introduce, expense for local councils and potential inconvenience to the consumer as just some of the reasons.

"The introduction of such a system is likely to undermine the existing kerbside collection operated by local councils as well as penalise consumers who already recycle at home," said the BPF. "The industry would welcome the opportunity to discuss recycling and litter with politicians, and encourages the involvement of relevant stakeholders in discussions of legislative proposals."






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Publication:British Plastics & Rubber
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2018
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