Report calls on UK to end its ‘addiction’ to exporting plastic waste

A new report has called for a ‘bold’ national policy framework to reduce the amount of plastic that is sent overseas and improve flagging recycling rates in the UK.

Think tank Policy Connect produced the report which comes on the heels of the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy published in December.

The major policy announcement in the strategy was that businesses and manufacturers of packaging will be expected to pay the full cost of recycling or disposing of their waste, through a new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme, which the Government estimates will raise up to a £1bn a year for recycling and disposal.

However, the Policy Connect report, called ‘Plastic Packaging Plan‘, says the government’s ambition needs to be ‘stretched’ due to the significant threat to the environment posed by plastic waste.

Researchers estimate the UK uses 3.3 million tonnes of plastic packaging annually. At 50kg for each person in the country, this is far above the European Union average of 31k per person.

The report also highlights under half of the plastic packaging placed on the market in 2016 was collected for recycling. This means that the rest ended up in landfill, incineration, or was simply littered in the environment.

Writing in the report, Stefano Agostini, CEO of Nestlé UK & Ireland, called for major investment into recycling infrastructure.

‘In order to realise our collective ambitions of a circular economy, the UK must invest in long-term infrastructure development to facilitate waste recovery and recycling. Such a strategy must support and strengthen market engagement, from both public and private sectors,’ he said.

The issue of where our waste goes has risen up the news agenda in recent months, and between 2010-2017 the UK exported 4.15 million tonnes of plastic packaging overseas.

But with China shutting its doors to low quality plastic recyclate in 2018, and other countries looking to follow suit, it has pushed up the timeline for the UK to get a handle on its own waste, with the UK now at ‘a turning point,’ according to the report. It calls on the UK to set a target of 2030 for the end of exports of plastic recyclate to end it’s ‘addiction’ to exporting waste.

Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, backed the report along with a host of other MPs. She said: ‘I welcome the call for the UK to commit to a bold target of zero exports of plastic packaging by 2030.

‘Achieving this will require home-grown solutions such as implementing a Deposit Return Scheme by 2022 and applying a coffee cup levy as my Committee recommended. We can and must transition from exporting our plastic waste problem to growing our own solutions.’

Policy Connect recommends the setting up of a Plastic Packaging Taskforce within the Environment Agency, funded through registration fees for packaging compliance schemes. It adds that all enforcement should be transferred from Trading Standards to the new task force.

It also recommends that Defra gradually increases targets for recycling levels in line with the European Union Circular Economy Package which it argues this will provide ‘stability and certainty’ to industry and investors with targets fixed in law and stretching to at least 2035.

Read the report here.

Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett

Journalist. Follow him on Twitter

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