The report, by the Green Alliance for the business group the Circular Economy Task Force, argues that the government’s focus on recycling targets which ‘push’ material into the waste management system, fails to develop a market for the plastic collected.
The UK currently exports two-thirds of plastic collected for recycling and only recycles 9% of all plastics domestically. But their analysis says the government could be developing secondary material markets that encourage an additional 2 million tonnes of plastic to be recycled in the UK.
According to the report, this could provide 71% of the raw material needed by UK manufacturers of plastic packaging and products.
The report adds that these market failures have led to an over-reliance on virgin materials, to the ‘detriment of the environment, industry and the economy.’
Dr Colin Church, CEO of CIWM, and chair of the Circular Economy Task Force, said: ‘There are currently some significant failures, in resource terms, in the way plastics are used and managed at the end of life stage.
‘Tackling this will require action from all of us – designers, manufacturers, retailers, consumers and resource managers.
‘The resource and waste management sector is more than ready to play its part, but it cannot act alone. It needs the right policy framework and the right partnerships to allow it to bring its skills, energy and imagination to bear.’
It recommends three new measures to complement recycling targets and make sure much more plastic is recovered in the UK and ‘pulled’ as raw material back into manufacturing. These are:
- Mandatory recycled content requirements for all plastic products and packaging.
- Short term support to kickstart the plastic reprocessing market.
- A market stabilisation fund to derisk investment in the market.
The report also recommends new policy to overcome technical barriers. It says to ensure a reliable market, long-term strategy should provide certainty for investors, facilitate new collaborative problem solving and ratchet up ambition over time.
Libby Peake, senior policy adviser on resources at Green Alliance, added:
‘If the UK wants to lead the world in addressing the global scourge of plastic pollution, that means creating a circular economy at home that allows us to turn discarded plastics back into new products. Just collecting plastic and shipping it abroad doesn’t solve the problem.’