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Encouraged by early days of Gove leadership

David Palmer-Jones

Environment secretary Michael Gove is showing encouraging leadership by the Government in tackling the scourge of microbeads with this proposed UK ban on their sale and manufacture, and this is a step in the right direction.

Making the change towards a more circular economy (CE) will only happen if policy levers, such as a ban on plastic microbeads, form part of a long-term integrated approach to managing these precious resources, with the concept of extended producer responsibility (EPR) – a polluter pays approach to levies on products that are not recyclable – at its heart.

Our sector has long been crying out for an holistic, long-term, strategy from the Government to tackle environmental issues caused by all plastic products throughout their lifecycle – not just those that capture the public’s attention from time to time, and which are only the tip of the iceberg when you consider the vast quantities of plastic entering our natural environment.

We would like to see the Government seize the opportunity to address the British public’s concern for the environment and introduce progressive policies which recognise all plastics, and other recyclable materials, as the valuable commodities they are, by linking them to the UK’s industrial strategy and domestic manufacturing base. If society and businesses value the material, it will not be discarded and end up in our oceans.

Every day, some 16 million of the 36 million plastic bottles bought daily across the UK are discarded rather than recycled. We would like to see producers take more direct responsibility for their packaging – for example, in the case of plastic bottles, by using more recycled content and introducing deposit return schemes which give appropriate incentives to consumers to return their bottles to the manufacturer – instead of discarding them and potentially losing the value for ever. 

Schemes such as plastic bottle deposit returns will only likely be realised at scale with the right nudges from the Government, which we have seen in the past can be successful. For example, the tax on single-use plastic bags has dramatically influenced consumer behaviour during the past two years and resulted in a massive reduction in plastic bag usage. 

Research findings published this week by the University of Georgia and the University of California revealed that the equivalent weight of a billion elephants in plastic has been created since the 1950s and most of it has ended up in landfill.

By 2015, according to the research, humans had generated eight billion tonnes of plastics, and six billion tonnes had become waste while only 9% of the waste plastic was recycled. If current trends continue, roughly 11 billion tonnes of plastic waste globally will be in landfills or polluting oceans by 2050.”

David Palmer-Jones is chief executive of Suez Recycling and Recovery UK

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