2 October 2018

Tackling plastic waste at the source

OPINION: Jeff Rhodes, head of environment & external affairs at Biffa, reflects on policy drivers for increasing plastic waste recycling and the forthcoming resources and waste strategy, in light of discussions at the Conservative Party Conference this week.

It’s encouraging to see a high level discussion around plastics waste taking place at Conference, and it was especially promising to see Thérèse Coffey preview an expected forthcoming announcement on taxing single use plastics in the upcoming Resources and Waste Strategy from Defra.

Jeff Rhodes, Biffa

However it’s essential that we recognise the real issue here which will fundamentally affect change – identifying and tackling the problem at the source. This means drastically streamlining the plastics materials that enter the marketplace in our supermarkets and shops and identifying these before they become waste. So, in practice, implementing eco-design of packaging for recyclability, using fewer types of plastic, clearer labelling and greater use of secondary material content. If we tackle this problem at source, more plastics waste will be recycled, there will be much less confusion about which materials can be recycled by householders and simpler, more uniform collection regimes from councils will be possible. This in turn will significantly impact plastic recycling rates.

We’ve seen this approach work well with the plastic bag tax for example, where the government and retail producers dealt with the issue at source. It also showed the major impact a tax measure can have, with government reporting an 86% drop in plastic carrier bag use. This is why we passionately believe a similar approach will work for plastic packaging.


While plastics remains high on the government’s agenda, in contrast to the fringe event, it was disappointing to see a lack of real content on the subject of waste and recycling in Mr Gove’s speech. Aside from a nod to the growing issue of waste crime there was no reference to the fact that recycling rates in Britain have continued to plateau for years. Until we see the much anticipated Defra Strategy we remain in the dark about our nation’s waste and resources outlook post-Brexit or how the government plans to drive actual policies to bring about tangible improvements and change.

Finally, as well as tackling plastics and recycling through a range of new measures, it is also vital we don’t forget the parallel action we need to deal with investment in infrastructure to manage the residual waste which cannot viably be recycled, otherwise we will continue to face problems on that front too.


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