Plastic bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Preventing Plastic Bottle Waste

1.The UK uses 38.5 million plastic bottles every day, of which 15 million are not recycled. 700,000 plastic bottles are littered every day, encouraging more littering and causing damage to natural habitats and human well-being. Plastic bottle waste is not simply a recycling or environmental issue; it is a social issue with considerable direct and indirect costs for taxpayers through litter picking and healthcare. (Paragraph 17)

2.Following the weak analysis of marine litter made in the UK Marine Strategy Part Three, we recommend that the Government set out a timescale for publishing a more accurate assessment of the current levels, properties and impacts of marine litter and the steps it will take to protect our oceans from plastic pollution. The rising tide of plastic waste in the ocean has been described by UN Oceans Chief as a “planetary crisis” and there is increasing public appetite for urgent action in this area. The Government has committed to protecting the marine environment from all kinds of pollution, including plastic pollution, under UN Sustainable Development Goal 14. However, the Government has only recently begun to address this by exploring the potential of a tax on single-use plastics. We have heard that tackling plastic pollution at source is the most effective way to mitigate the damage caused by larger plastic items, such as plastic bottles, as well as microplastics. The Marine Strategy Part One found that “significant amounts of litter appear in our seas and on our beaches”, bringing environmental and economic damage. At the very least the Government should increase clean-up resources to coastal areas, where, by function of tide or topography there is a large plastic pollution problem. We urge the Government to introduce a ‘Coastal Clean-up’ fund to support the removal of plastic from our beaches and seas. (Paragraph 24)

Preventing Plastic Bottle Use

3.Access to clean drinking water is a basic human right. The Government should prioritise reducing the use of plastic bottles. We believe that small changes can deliver big results. The UK has a ready supply of safe, clean tap water, yet the consumption of bottled water continues to grow. We have heard that providing more free drinking water taps and fountains in public spaces could lead to a 65% reduction in the use of plastic water bottles, but there is no obligation for unlicensed premises to provide free drinking water. We call on the Government to introduce a regulation for all public premises which serve food or drink to provide free drinking water on request, including sports centres and leisure centres. Businesses should volunteer to get involved with community water schemes such as Refill Bristol to advertise their provision of free drinking water. (Paragraph 32)

4.There are very few water fountains in parks and other public spaces. There are none in Manchester or Merseyside, one in West Yorkshire, and four in the West Midlands. We believe that the provision of free water fountains provides an opportunity for water companies to demonstrate their corporate social responsibility. We were disappointed not to receive evidence from water companies given their filtration and sewage systems remove huge amounts of plastic debris from waterways. Yorkshire Water has installed three fountains in Hull, as part of their celebration of being 2017 City of Culture, we urge other water companies to follow suit. The Government should review the health and litter-reducing benefits of providing public water fountains, amend the Water Industry Act 1991 to give water companies formal powers to erect water fountains. Additionally, the Government should run a wide-reaching communications campaign to actively promote the use of refillable bottles to ensure that new water fountains and refill stations within shops and transportation hubs are used. (Paragraph 33)

5.Parliament and Government departments must show leadership and ban the sale of disposable plastic bottles in their buildings–providing water fountains and reusable bottles instead. We would like to see a plastic-free Parliament. (Paragraph 34)

Shifting the Financial Burden of Packaging Waste

6.Currently, taxpayers cover around 90% of the costs of packaging waste disposal, indicating that the producer responsibility scheme is not working as it should. The Government’s commitment to explore potential reforms to the UK’s current producer responsibility schemes is long overdue. Industry has been calling for reform for years. In order to make packaging producers more responsible for the type of products they are putting on the market, we recommend that the Government adapts a producer responsibility compliance fee structure that stimulates the use of recycled plastic, rewards design for recyclability, and increases costs for packaging that is difficult to recycle or reuse. This would incentivise producers to use more sustainable packaging, whilst reducing the costs on taxpayers. Additionally we recommend that the Government lower the de minimis packaging handling threshold from 50 tonnes to 1 tonne. This would ensure that all businesses who handle a significant amount of packaging are obligated to recycle. (Paragraph 47)

7.The Environment Agency, which regulates Packaging Recovery Notes, told us they have no regulatory control over how the revenue from Packaging Recovery Notes is spent. Figures show that there is low investment in UK reprocessing facilities compared with waste exportation. This is grossly inefficient. We support industry calls for greater transparency over how recovery note revenue is spent and recommend the Government to require all waste reprocessors to report detailed information on actions funded by recovery notes. Waste reprocessors should be held accountable to the Environment Agency for exactly how they spend packaging recovery revenue, especially if they fund export considerably more than domestic reprocessing. This would provide sustainable investment to boost the UK’s domestic recycling capabilities, as well as greater financial assistance to local authorities. Given the recent Chinese ban on mixed plastic waste from the UK, this investment is both urgent, to avoid a huge increase in landfill, and will save money and create jobs in the long run. (Paragraph 48)

8.We recommend that as part of its reform of PRO the Government phases in a mandated minimum 50% rPET content for the production of new plastic bottles by 2023 at the latest. This would create a UK market for recycled plastic, which struggles against low oil prices which make new plastic cheaper. Introducing this legislation would help create a circular economy by ensuring that plastics are reprocessed. The legislative requirement would be a minimum standard. We expect that the reformed producer responsibility regime set out in the previous section would drive further design innovation. (Paragraph 56)

Improving Plastic Bottle Recycling

9.Although nearly every local authority in the UK now provides household collection for recycling, the recycling rate for plastic bottles has plateaued in the last five years and the ONS found that household recycling rates are deteriorating. We have heard that plastic bottle recycling is stalling partly because recycling rates are measured by tonnage, which creates a disincentive for local authorities to focus on collection of lightweight, high-volume materials. We recommend that the Government sets a post-2020 recycling rate of 65%. Encouraging recycling of products which use high levels of energy when produced from virgin materials should be a priority. The British Plastics Federation told us that it takes 75% less energy to make a plastic bottle from recycled material than virgin materials. The Government should set out a timeline for this review process in the upcoming Waste and Resources Strategy. (Paragraph 65)

10.We have heard that Deposit Return Schemes for plastic bottles and cans achieve very high recycling rates. They help to facilitate a circular economy, as well as cutting down on the third most common litter type in the UK. A Deposit Return Scheme presents the opportunity to create a cohesive recycling mechanism for plastic bottles and other beverage containers throughout the UK. This could help boost the current stalling rate from 57% to around 80 – 90%. In particular, Deposit Return Schemes would capture the plastic bottles that are used on-the-go that currently escape household recycling. Deposit Return Schemes introduce a financial incentive for consumers to return their plastic bottles thereby reducing litter. We have also heard that a Scheme may encourage people to think twice about littering other items, due to the ‘spill-over’ effect. We have heard serious and legitimate concerns about the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme from local authorities, plastic bottle producers and retailers, however we heard that a well-designed Deposit Return Scheme can overcome these concerns. (Paragraph 93)

11.We recommend that the Government introduces a legislated Deposit Return Scheme for all PET plastic drinks bottles. The upcoming Waste Strategy should also examine whether to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme for other beverage containers, such as aluminium cans, to foster a culture of recycling packaging used on-the-go. It is vital that a Deposit Return Scheme is well-designed. It should be created after a consultation with stakeholders such as manufacturers, retailers and local authorities. Consultation should build upon the working group already in place and examine the innovations suggested to improve the functioning of a Deposit Return Scheme, such as local authority collaboration and retailer partnerships. We particularly encourage collaboration with Zero Waste Scotland, who are responsible for planning Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme. Based on research, the scheme should place a 10 – 20p deposit on top of the price of product that will be refunded to the consumer upon return of the bottle or can. We believe a Deposit Return Scheme will create a source of good quality recycled plastic for manufacturers, therefore ensuring that fewer plastic bottles are incinerated, landfilled or littered in land or at sea. (Paragraph 94)

20 December 2017