Plastic waste is one of the biggest global environmental challenges. The world produces around 380 million tonnes of plastic every year. Due to its durable nature, plastic waste can be difficult to dispose of sustainably, with large quantities being incinerated or sent to landfill where it leaks into the environment and breaks down into micro-plastics. The micro-plastics have been found the air, soil, oceans, our bodies and the bodies of animals and there are serious concerns about the impacts on animal and human health.
Currently the UK sends over 60% of its plastics abroad, exporting the problem of plastic waste to countries that often do not have the ability to dispose of this waste sustainably. In less developed countries, this has led to a range of economic, social and health problems including land and water degradation, air pollution and food chain contamination. We are therefore recommending that the Government ban the export of plastic waste by the end of 2027. To make this ban achievable the UK needs to significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste it produces, move away from our “use and dispose” linear economy to a more circular economy, and increase domestic capacity so we can reprocess more of our plastic waste in the UK. To achieve this, we are calling on the Government to:
- Ensure that their targets are ambitious, effective and aligned to the waste hierarchy by prioritising efforts to reduce the volume of waste and increase the amount of plastic that is reused rather than simply recycled.
- Accelerate the roll-out of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging. EPR will see producers bearing a greater proportion of the cost of disposing the material they put on the market, which should incentivise them to reduce the amount of packaging they produce and use more easily recyclable materials.
- Extend EPR to all businesses putting 1 tonne of packaging on the market per year by 2030.
- By March 2024, set out how EPR will encourage more businesses to adopt reuse and refill models, including generic and universal packaging, to support the move to a more circular economy.
- Create a taskforce to explore other ways to make reuse and refill models mainstream, including charges on single-use products, mandatory reporting on companies’ plastic footprints, and how to raise public awareness and uptake of reuse schemes.
- Confirm its support for the plastic packaging tax. To avoid paying this tax, producers must ensure that 30% of the content of plastic packaging comes from recycled sources. This should incentivise producers to reduce how much plastic they use while increasing demand for recycled plastic, hopefully driving investment in domestic recycling capacity. We also believe the Government should tailor the 30% recycled content to reflect the need of different sectors and commit to increasing the recycled content requirement over time.
- Work with industry to unlock up to £1 billion of private investment in domestic plastic reprocessing infrastructure. Government should use its infrastructure roadmap, due later this year, to identify key areas of government and private investment. It should also explore how measures such as the rationalisation of the plastics market, the development of more enhanced digital sorting systems and the introduction of price-stabilising mechanisms for plastic recyclate could be used to unlock further investment.
- Reinvest any income raised from applied Extended Producer Responsibility fees and the Plastic Packaging Tax into recycling infrastructure and promising areas of future research. This should support the compostable plastics and chemical recycling industries, which currently appear to offer the best means of managing necessary, but difficult to recycle plastics, such as plastic films.