Recyclers oppose £200/t landfill tax proposal

20 November 2013

By Will Date

Plastics recyclers have argued against a call for the Chancellor to raise the landfill tax rate to £200 per tonne. They claim that such a high rate would not help to drive a greater level of recycling in the UK.

Ironically, the call for the massively higher rate came from manufacturers of plastic, who are taking a tougher stance on the tax than the recyclers themselves.

The proposal to raise the landfill tax level above its current rate of £72 per-tonne came from the Seven Association Alliance, a group coordinated by the British Plastics Federation (BPF) which represents the UK’s plastics manufacturing trade.

Plastics recyclers have spoken out against suggestions that landfill tax should be raised to £200 per tonne
Plastics recyclers have spoken out against suggestions that landfill tax should be raised to £200 per tonne

In a letter sent ahead of the Autumn Budget, due to be announced by the Chancellor George Osborne on December 5, the group said that ‘greatly increasing’ the rate of landfill tax would help to ensure that recyclable waste is diverted from landfill, and ‘transformed into valuable resources’.

This comes against a backdrop of declining landfill rates across Europe, with the European Commission keen to see Member States reducing the amount of waste they send to landfill.
In a speech to the Waste & Resources Action Programme’s annual conference in London this month, EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said that the Commission will seek to ‘accelerate’ the movement of waste up the waste hierarchy, with Member States working to phase out landfill.

But plastics recyclers, including members of the BPF’s own Recycling Group, have said that despite the need to landfill less, a major rise in landfill tax rates would be counter-productive. They claim that the measure would only serve reduce the quality of material available to the reprocessing sector, increasing processing costs for those handling plastic waste.

Collection

Speaking to letsrecycle.com, Bernard Chase, purchasing director of Regain Polymers, said: “The BPF represents a broad church of industry interests and in calling for an increase in the landfill tax to drive more plastics towards reuse, they seek quite rightly to challenge some of the adverse publicity that plastics in general receives.

'Obliging the UK’s plastic recycling industry to pay £200 per tonne for disposal of the material they have to sort out from an increasingly low grade feedstock stream will not fire their enthusiasm for the task one bit.'

Bernard Chase, Regain Polymers

“That said, enforced collection alone can never be the solution and until all drivers both commercial and regulatory are aligned towards delivery of a quality product to the recycling supply chain, there will continue to be significant problems in achieving a truly resource efficient circular economy.

“Obliging the UK’s plastic recycling industry to pay £200 per tonne for disposal of the material they have to sort out from an increasingly low grade feedstock stream will not fire their enthusiasm for the task one bit.”

Instead of a significant hike in landfill tax, Mr Chase argued that greater urgency is needed in pushing the BPF’s proposal to offset a producer’s recycling obligation under the packaging recovery note (PRN) system against the tonnage of recycled polymer they use in new products (see letsrecycle.com story).

He added: “What is needed instead are pull through mechanisms that encourage manufacturers to use increasing volumes of recycled plastic into product they place on the market. The BPF Offset Proposal is one such mechanism which seeks to reduce obligation under the waste packaging regulations in direct proportion to the volume of recycled plastic packaging used in new plastic products placed on the market.

“Such mechanisms will only truly succeed, however, once quality rather than quantity is placed at the top of the collection priority list.”

Landfill

Elsewhere, a plastic film recycler told letsrecycle.com that although landfill tax had been a ‘key driver’ for the increase in recycling rates witnessed in the UK over the last decade, a major increase could jeopardise progress towards packaging recycling targets in the future.

“If everything is kept out of landfill, you have rubbish in your recycling stream. All that does is give us the landfill bill further down the track.”

The landfill tax rate is due to rise to £80 per tonne in April 2014, with any future changes beyond 2015 yet to be revealed. It is hoped that the Chancellor will provide greater certainty over future landfill tax levels in his budget statement next month.

Chris Dow, chief executive of Dagenham-based plastic bottle recycler said that further certainty in future landfill tax rates would help firms invest in infrastructure developments in the future.

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BPF

He commented: “UK Landfill Tax, originally implemented in order to restrict waste sent to landfill, has helped create and develop a whole new recycling industry – including our own food grade plastic recycling industry - and create thousands of green jobs. At Closed Loop Recycling we are advocates of annual increases in Landfill Tax, at least in line with RPI, as well as long term visibility of these tax rates in order that recyclers can continue to invest with greater certainty.”