Executive Chair, OPRL Ltd
Short term pain for long term gain? The Plastics Tax can’t deliver sustainable outcomes on its own. We need more investment in infrastructure and recycling.
With 8 million tonnes of plastics entering oceans each year it’s not surprising the Government has seen a plastics tax as a popular way to replace dwindling landfill tax revenues. But will it lead to more sustainable behaviours?
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates a truly circular plastics economy, reducing and effectively recycling plastics, could radically reduce ocean leakage, halve virgin plastic usage, reduce GHG emissions by a quarter and generate up to 700,000 jobs globally. The UK could benefit from all of these if we put the infrastructure in place.
Around half the UK’s plastic packaging is already collected for recycling and exports of plastic waste have been declining for a decade.
Improving ‘soft plastic’ recycling rates
Around half the UK’s plastic packaging is already collected for recycling and exports of plastic waste have been declining for a decade. Polymers and applications vary greatly – bottles made of PET, HDPE and PP are highly recyclable and often contain high proportions of recyclate. PET trays and PE ‘soft plastics’ (wraps and bags) lag way behind. PVC is hardly recycled at the moment.
Introduction of a new plastic tax
The £200/t Plastics Tax comes into effect on 1 April 2022, well ahead of wider packaging reforms in the much-delayed Environment Bill. It could incentivise the use of at least 30% post-consumer recycled content in packaging but only if the recyclate costs less than the tax. That may not be true in the short term, despite escalating imports.
More needs to be done, but it will only get done if we invest in UK reprocessing so plastics stay here and engage citizens effectively to recycle more. Tax breaks might help both while growing green jobs.