A focus on using taxes to reduce plastic waste raised by the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has been described as a ‘strong first step’, but waste experts have called for measures to encourage greater recycling of the material.
In his Spring financial statement yesterday (13 March), Mr Hammond announced a call for evidence on how changes to the tax system could be used to reduce the levels of single waste plastics (see letsrecycle.com story).
The consultation document, entitled: “Tackling the plastic problem: using the tax system or charges to address single-use plastic waste”, notes that financial measures do exist in the environmental sector including the Landfill Tax and the PRN packaging waste regulations.
The consultation documentation adds that government will seek to explore how changes to the tax system or charges could be used to reduce the amount of single-use plastics which end up as waste.
Whilst the overall reaction to the launch of the consultation has been positive, some have questioned how a potential ‘tax on plastics’ could work in practice.
This includes the retail sector, which, while ‘recognising the need to do more to reduce plastic’ has claimed that a “comprehensive strategy which considers all materials and resources” will be necessary to reduce waste across all materials.
Commenting in the wake of the Chancellor’s statement yesterday, Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium said: “A plastics tax begs a number of questions such as the time frame for exploring a tax, what Ministers hope to do with the receipts, and the impact on consumers and businesses and we look forward to working with government on these issues.
“All plastic packaging items are already ‘taxed’ when used under producer responsibility measures. Rather than introduce a second system, the current system could be reformed. Any new tax should have a clear intended outcome. For example, increasing the costs of products is unlikely to result in positive consumer behaviour change.”
In its response, the body representing the plastics industry has also recognised the need to “reduce plastic waste so we leave the environment in a better place for generations to come”, adding that any material that can only be used once “has no place in the future and should be reduced”.
Philip Law, director general of the British Plastics Federation, added: “As the experts on plastics we welcome this call for evidence. We support interventions that encourage reusable and recyclable plastic, as well as measures that reduce litter and improve recycling.
“The devil of course will be in the detail. And we must not lose sight of the broader point that there are many positive uses for plastic in our society – from our hospitals to food security. We look forward to working with the Government, environmental groups and industry in the months ahead to find a solution that works – and meets the critical challenge of reducing plastic waste.
Environmental Services Association director general, Jacob Hayler, has claimed that higher taxes or charges for virgin plastic use, for example, could help to drive greater demand for recycled plastics, and could be implemented alongside existing producer responsibility requirements for plastic packaging.
He added: “ESA has long called for the Government to strengthen producer responsibility to ensure that those who place products and packaging on the market also take greater responsibility for recapturing those materials at the end of their use. Higher taxes or charges for virgin plastics could be part of an overall system which drives the right behaviours across the supply chain by boosting demand for recycled alternatives.
“The call for evidence launched today by the Chancellor in the Spring Statement is therefore highly welcome. It is a strong first step and shows that the Government is taking this issue seriously. We look forward to making our recommendations to the Treasury.”
The body representing waste industry professionals – CIWM – has called for a focus on measures that will “reduce all types of waste” as well as a wider look at how the UK can contribute to the global waste system.
CIWM chief executive Colin Church, noted: “Some 3 billion people across the globe do not have access to controlled waste disposal services and facilities, and research suggests that mismanaged municipal solid waste in developing countries is the major source of plastics entering the oceans.
“This means that there is significant scope for UK international aid to be better targeted at helping to address this crisis, as well as a role for UK expertise to help countries to develop approaches that tackle plastic waste in locally sustainable ways.”
From within the UK waste and resources industry, Paul Taylor, chief executive of FCC Environment, described the commitment to look at the issue of single-use plastics, as ‘an important step forward’ but said more needs to be done in order to address a ‘shortage in UK waste infrastructure’.
He added that challenges in external markets have continued to squeeze businesses in the sector, noting: “It is therefore imperative that the government reduces UK reliance on external markets to help manage waste, by supporting the construction of UK manufacturing plants and recycling facilities in order to treat contaminated plastics here in the UK.”
Richard Kirkman, chief technology and innovation officer at Veolia UK & Ireland claimed that more can be done to drive the proportion of recyclable plastic that is currently not being reprocessed, into the recycling system.
He said: “Plastic is an important material in its own right that has revolutionised society.
“Whilst looking into new types of packaging for tomorrow we must at the same time remember that a vast proportion of plastic we already use today is recyclable yet we are not capturing it through the recycling process. Over 5 billion plastic bottles that can easily be recycled are not even re-entering the supply chain.”