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Sustainable Packaging 2021

Plastic packaging tax driving recycling opportunities

iStock / Getty Images Plus / i3D_VR

Anne Hitch

Citizen and Stakeholder Engagement Manager, RECOUP

Will the upcoming plastic tax achieve its aims without further legislative and investment support?

Will the tax prevent plastic pollution? As a stand-alone measure, probably not. But strengthening recycled content requirements will certainly make a difference.

Since the introduction of the plastic bag levy in 2015, alongside powerful images of plastics pollution in every corner of our planet courtesy of Sir David Attenborough, citizens are outraged (and rightly so) that our consumption driven society of buy, use, dispose, has created such a mess.

Understanding the technicalities

The upcoming plastic packaging tax will not apply to “any packaging which is not predominantly plastic by weight”[1]. Those who achieve a 30% post-consumer recycled content will also avoid the £200 per tonne tax.

Some will consider other materials, but many, in an attempt to retain the functionality of the pack, will turn to a combination of laminated material layers without considering the overall environmental impacts based on carbon, energy and recyclability.

Commercial viability of plastics recycling is market and demand driven. Increasing the pressure on producers to include recycled content is one solution. Of course, ensuring all plastic packaging placed on the market is compatible with recycling is also key.

Over recent years, there has been a drive by many brands to voluntarily go beyond 30% recycled content with many success stories in the rPET and HDPE milk bottle markets. Since the tax announcement, work has accelerated on food grade PP reprocessing too, which currently cannot include recycled content due to food safety regulations.

In 2019 we placed 59% of household bottles and 33% of household pots tubs and trays for recycling.

Importance of educating citizens

Keeping plastics capable of being recycled in the materials loop and driving circular economy relies on citizens doing their bit. The 2020 RECOUP UK Household Plastics Collection Survey reported that in 2019 we placed 59% of household bottles and 33% of household pots tubs and trays for recycling. To supply enough recycled plastic content from the UK, support of UK citizens is required.

As well as taxation and other legislative tools such as use of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), it is important to invest in educating on the role individual behaviour plays to drive circular economy.


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