Plastic | Regulation

A view on the UK's proposed plastic packaging tax

In March 2018, the UK Government announced plans to introduce a plastic packaging tax that will come into effect from April 2022. Rosie Lintott finds out what it would mean for UK producers from Ian Fielding, chair of the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport’s Waste Group.

As part of its budget in March 2018, the UK Government announced its plan to introduce a world-leading new tax on businesses that produce or import plastic packaging that uses insufficient recycled content, due to come into effect from April 2022.

The tax will be set at a rate providing a clear economic incentive for businesses to use recycled material in the production of plastic packaging, which will in turn create greater demand for this material and stimulate more collection of plastic waste for recycling, diverting it away from landfill or incineration.

The government’s call for evidence received 162,000 responses from industry professionals highlighting the strong public interest for action in this area, as well as from Greenpeace, which is supporting the plastic packaging tax as a tool to help tackle the plastic crisis.

Sam Chetan-Welsh, political advisor for Greenpeace UK, said: “A tax on virgin plastic which applies to both producers and exporters will be helpful in achieving that.”

The government’s plan is also receiving support from local governments and institutions across the country, including the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), which represents local government directors.

Ian Fielding, chair of ADEPT’s Waste Group, said of the issue of plastic packaging in the industry: “It’s a big issue for us as a society and there is an increasing demand from the public to do better.”

Plastic: between economic boom and crisis

The plastics industry is a global leader and a key economic driver in the UK, enabling other industries and service sectors such as retail, construction, healthcare and transport to function, develop profitably and innovate. With 4.8 million tonnes of materials processed every year and a combined turnover of £19bn, the UK remains one of the top five processors of plastics in the EU.

In 2018, it was estimated that 31% of plastic waste was being recycled and this is predicted to increase to 42% by 2030 due to new initiatives and policies being implemented. The main incentive to make these changes to plastic packaging comes from the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive which sets out a 55% plastic packaging recycling target by 2025.

Fielding says about the level of concern over plastic packaging in the industry: “I think it’s something that within local authorities we have been aware of for a long time; we’ve got duties and responsibilities around recycling and packaging materials and plastics within that, we have to deal with waste.”

Fielding believes producers and manufacturers are also becoming more vigilant about the effects of plastic packaging on the environment: “I think there is an increasing awareness and reaction to those duties and there are expectations of an extended responsibility and [assessment of] when we are working well with the producers and the sector.”

Businesses to tackle plastic waste

Respondents to the government’s call for evidence on a plastic packaging tax agreed with initial proposals on many elements of the tax design, but also took issue with some parts of the consultation.

If such a tax is introduced, businesses and retailers will need to take responsibility for their plastic packaging output, which will have an impact on operations and finance.

Fielding believes the tax would reinforce the “need for producers to take responsibility for the products that they put into the supply chain and ultimately the products that we as local authority end up having to deal with as waste”. He explains that ADEPT is fully supportive of the government’s plans and strategies regarding issues such as extended producer responsibility, and supports the move towards the plastic packaging tax.

Greenpeace’s Welsh, while supportive of the tax, points out that it will take more than that to tackle the growing plastic waste crisis, saying: “A plastic tax alone won’t go far enough, and what’s vital is that the upcoming Environment Bill includes legally binding plastic reduction targets.”

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