By Andrew James
Following on from the governments release of its ‘Resources and Waste Strategy’ report, Policy Connect have published their policy idea: “Plastics Packaging Plan: Achieving Net Zero ‘Waste’ Exports”.
Below, a colleague who coincidentally did his University literature review on the recycling and fate of plastics (from a chemical perspective) picks out some salient points from the Policy Connect Report and other related announcements.
Policy Connect describes itself as “a cross-party think tank improving people’s lives by influencing policy. We collaborate with government and parliament, through our all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs), and across the public, private and third sectors to develop our policy ideas. We work in health; education & skills; industry, technology & innovation, and sustainability policy.”
For anybody looking for a visual and audio background feature to what follows, could maybe look at Channel 4’s news piece which can be watched here.
The report maintains that a blanket ban of exporting waste is not needed, but the UK would benefit socially, environmentally and politically from harbouring an ‘in house’ way of dealing with our plastic waste.
Capturing and processing plastic waste
Currently, there is the problem of both capturing and processing waste into materials of economic value. The policy begins by stating investment in jobs and growth within the UK Waste Management sector is crucial in order to provide a system capable of dealing with the increase in volume of waste that would arise from the plan.
To put the plan into process, a significant increase in the capture of waste is needed (45% of plastic produced was recycled in 2016: – Governments Statistical Service on Waste 2018).
One idea proposed, is the Deposit Return Scheme, where you (the consumer) are rewarded for recycling your plastic waste back into the system. This provides a financial incentive for individuals, and businesses to become a part of the movement. At a fundamental level, job opportunities will arise in order to implement and sustain the process of a Deposit Return Scheme.
On a larger scale, a significant number of job opportunities would arise in the factories and plants needed across the UK to process the increased volume of waste.
Policy Connect state how “targeted investment is needed to bring forward innovations in material design and reprocessing technologies” to address the current issue of there being no demand for recyclable plastics.
A breakthrough in reprocessing technologies could lead to real economic gain, as the recycled plastics would then have a future use, and at the same time the cost of exporting waste would be eliminated. The key is to keep the value of plastic in the economy.
(On the subject of innovation – there is the open Innovate UK competition that I blogged on recently and the Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge launched earlier this week – indications that public and private money is looking to back innovations in this area).
The plastics tax
Many are also looking ahead to the 2020, where the proposed ‘Plastics 30% Tax’ is likely to come into force, after being backed by The Environmental Services Association (ESA). Details of the tax are yet to be confirmed, but it is the general consensus that a tax will be introduced on the manufacturing and import of plastic packaging which contains less than 30% recycled plastics.
The tax is attracting attention as a ‘game changer’, with views that the minimum percentage of recycled plastic required will increase as recycling methods improve.
Due to the great reliance placed on plastics in a wide-spread of industries today, the proposed 30% plastics tax will I am sure be on the radar of a lot of businesses.
A direction of travel
As with my colleague’s blogpost on ‘Pudding Tax’, the direction of travel for plastics producers / users is that there is an environmental and social ‘cost’ which is currently not represented in the economics of production – so the UK government is trying to come up with a way of dealing with this market deficiency. It looks likely that this will introduce a cost/ costs into the system but also here there are stimuli to come up with innovative solutions.