The government has no plans to introduce a ban on non-recyclable food packaging, a Defra minister has said.
However, policies set out in the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy, including a tax on plastic packaging containing less than 30% recycled content, will drive more packaging to be recycled, the minister has claimed.
Robert Goodwill, minister of state for agriculture, fisheries and food, made the comments during a parliamentary debate on packaging on Monday (24 June), prompted by an e-petition signed by 247,048 members of the public.
Commenting at the conclusion of the debate, he said: “Most food packaging is technically recyclable, although as we have heard, the current market does not make all recycling economically viable.
“Our general approach is to help people and companies make the right choice and develop alternatives, rather than ban items outright.”
Mr Goodwill explained that after consultation the government would be introducing the tax, to be charged on materials that manufacturers place on the market. The tax will be a flat rate per tonne of packaging material.
Imported unfilled plastic packaging will be taxed when it is released on to the UK market, whilst filled packaging that is not exported will not be chargeable.
During the debate Sandy Martin, Labour’s shadow minister for waste, called for a ‘graduated’ tax to be considered to encourage the production of packaging with higher than 30% recycled materials. The minister said the Treasury had considered whether the threshold should be increased over time, but did not specify whether this would happen.
Mr Goodwill made clear that though Defra supports both consumer and government-driven initiatives, responsibility will largely lie with producers through an extended producer responsibility regime, which is another strand of the Strategy.
He said: “A key proposal is that producers fund the net cost of managing the packaging that they place on the market once it becomes waste.
“That creates an incentive for companies to use less packaging, as that will reduce the cost of complying with the regulations.
“A further proposal includes adopting approaches to incentivise producers to adopt recyclable packaging along the way,” the Minister added.
The petition – which had been submitted to Parliament’s e-petition site and passed the 100,000 signature mark needed to be considered for a debate – had called for a ban of all “non-recyclable and unsustainable” food packaging.
Compostable plastics and supermarkets
Compostable plastics also came under scrutiny during the debate, with Neil Parish, the Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton and chair of the EFRA committee, calling for greater awareness of how they must be disposed of and whether all materials labelled as such can be properly composted.
He said: “We need to ensure much better public awareness.
“We also have to ensure that we collect the material separately and do not mix it with plastic that is not compostable.”
MPs also discussed the role of supermarkets in promoting recycling, slamming the amount of plastic used to wrap fresh food but also praising projects like Waitrose’s packaging-free initiative in Botley Road, Oxford.
Deidre Brock, the SNP MP for Edinburgh North and Leith said: “Since each supermarket watches all the other supermarkets and twitches at the smallest possible movement, smart supermarkets that find a way to market some real moves to sustainability will not only gain a commercial advantage, which they will keep, but trigger a chain reaction in the other supermarkets.”
Daniel Zeichner, who chaired the debate and is the Labour MP for Cambridge, closed the discussion saying that a Labour government would seek a more interventionist approach to unsustainable packaging.