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Spring statement and plastics: industry views

The Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has confirmed plans to consider taxing packaging in a bid to tackle plastic waste. Here are a number of comments from the industry.

ESA’s executive director Jacob Hayler said the Chancellor was right to recognise the issue of single-use plastics as a blight on our natural environment through littering and in many cases a challenge for recycling.

”ESA has long called for the Government to strengthen producer responsibility to ensure that those who place products and packaging on the market also take greater responsibility for recapturing those materials at the end of their use. Higher taxes or charges for virgin plastics could be part of an overall system which drives the right behaviours across the supply chain by boosting demand for recycled alternatives.

“The call for evidence launched today by the chancellor in the spring statement is therefore highly welcome. It is a strong first step and shows that the Government is taking this issue seriously. We look forward to making our recommendations to the Treasury.”

Paul Taylor, chief executive of FCC Environment, welcomed the move as an important step in combatting plastic pollution.

”However, more needs to be done in order to ensure that the UK addresses its shortage in waste infrastructure, which is hampering our ability to process and reuse our waste here in the UK. 

“The waste management sector currently faces a series of challenges, including the Chinese ban on the import of foreign low-grade plastic waste and mixed paper wastes, and the gate fees associated with exporting refuse-derived fuel, costing the UK over £900m since 2011. It is therefore imperative that the Government reduces UK reliance on external markets to help manage waste, by supporting the construction of UK manufacturing plants and recycling facilities in order to treat contaminated plastics here in the UK.”

Suez, chief executive David Palmer-Jones said taxation and policy reforms above all should be used to incentivise change and drive innovation starting with design and manufacture, rather than just focus on consumers when they are sold products wrapped in, or made of single use plastics.

”The success of the plastic bag tax in reducing sharply single use bag usage, shows that the public is able to shift its behaviour, now is the time to help the public by incentivising the necessary changes. An extended producer responsibility regime should address all forms of resource usage, materials and packaging production, and their collection, reuse and recycling across the whole supply chain.

”We need a full scale review of the taxation system for packaging that encompasses both plastics, paper, glass and card, including a review of the existing PRN (packaging recovery note) system if we are to achieve a more resource-efficient society and encourage producers to take more responsibility. 

”We as a recycling industry are ready to continue and expand partnering with consumer companies and retailers to help reconfigure the design of those necessary plastics used to maintain food hygiene and shelf-life, to improve their ability to be harvested and recycled into products. It makes environmental sense to ban some non essential single use plastics such as plastic straws other than for medical purposes or for example helping the elderly. Piecemeal bans on a few high profile items will capture the public’s imagination but we need to capitalise on that goodwill by having a broader and deeper review of what is sustainable and what is not, and how tax can encourage a more circular economy. 

”As a nation we need to recycle necessary plastics wherever it is economically and environmentally the right thing to do which is why Suez supports extended producer responsibility and deposit return schemes for some key material types including both plastics, metal cans and certain glass bottles.”

CIWM chief executive Colin Church said: “Plastics have many important functions and are part of modern life – but we have to stop using this versatile and highly durable material in single-use applications that squander a valuable resource, contribute to the pollution of our environment and our oceans, and increase the cost to society of managing our waste.”

“There is also a wider imperative to consider measures and incentives to reduce all types of waste, and make better use of recovered materials, to benefit the UK economy and the environment.”

CIWM is also calling on the Government to lead the way not just on single-use plastics here at home but also on tackling the issue of marine plastics pollution at a global level. In addition to calling for a high-level commitment to collaborative action at the Commonwealth Summit in April, CIWM says the UK should do more to help developing and middle-income nations tackle pollution and reduce plastic waste, including through the UK’s international aid programme and support for innovation

Martin Baxter, IEMA’s chief policy adviser, said: “The fact that air quality and tackling single use plastics are the environmental headlines is arguably reassuring given they are high on the public, news and political agendas. We’re pleased to see investments in critical areas, however the £20m R&D fund promised to businesses and universities to reduce the impact of single use plastics will not stretch far. Future levies which catalyse consumer behaviour change will likely have a more significant impact.”

James Court, head of policy and external affairs at the Renewable Energy Association said: We welcome commitments by the chancellor to use the tax system to spur green innovation in the field of recycling and call on him to go further and kick start the renewables economy by introducing enhanced capital allowances for technologies of the future such as solar and energy storage.

“The chancellor’s commitment to recycling is welcomed, but needs to go beyond single use plastics. The tax system should be used to encourage more sustainable behaviours and establish a true circular economy, one that includes waste reduction, recycling, and energy recovery. An ambition to bring England’s food waste collections to at least the levels seen in Scotland and Wales should be a priority alongside tackling single-use plastics.”

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