A report by MPs calling for action to tackle plastic waste and litter has prompted a reassertion by the Government of its goals within the 25-year environment plan, published in January.
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) published a report in late December entitled Plastic Bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide which contained a series of recommendations including waste producers paying more for recycling, mandated proportions of recycled materials in new products and the introduction of a deposit return scheme (DRS).
The formal Government response to the committee says its resources and waste strategy, due to be published by Defra in the second half of the year, “will set out our approach to reducing waste, promoting markets for secondary materials, incentivising producers to design better products and how we can better manage materials at the end of life by targeting environmental impacts”.
MPs had noted that taxpayers cover around 90% of the costs of packaging waste disposal and concluded that the existing producer responsibility scheme was not working as it should. They said the Government’s commitment to explore potential reforms was “long overdue”.
They said: “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.”
Proposals included a mandated minimum 50% rPET content for the production of new plastic bottles by 2023 at the latest.
The EAC was told: “Tackling waste, especially waste plastic, is a key priority for the Government.”
Four approaches would be taken, the response said:
- At the production stage, we will encourage producers to take more responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products and rationalise the number of different types of plastic in use
- At the consumption stage, we will cut the amount of plastic in circulation through reducing demand for single-use plastic
- At the end of use stage, we will make it easier for people to recycle
- At the end of life/waste management stage, we will improve the rate of recycling.
It added: “At the production stage, this includes encouraging producers to take more responsibility for the lifespan of their products and making sure plastic items are more carefully designed. We will look at how we can better incentivise producers to manage resources more efficiently through changes to our producer responsibility schemes.
“In our new resources and waste strategy, we will set out our approach to promoting well-functioning markets for secondary materials and incentivising producers to design better products.
“We will also look at how the tax system could further reduce the amount of waste we create through a call for evidence on single-use plastics to be published shortly.”
This was a reference to an announcement in the Budget, for which ministers have been criticised for delaying.
MPs also sought a DRS, saying it presented an opportunity to boost the current recycling rate for plastic packaging from 57% to up to 90%.
In reply, the Government said that an independent working group set up under the Litter Strategy, Voluntary and Economic Incentives, had sought evidence on the costs, benefits and impacts of deposit and reward and return schemes for plastic bottles and other drinks containers.
“The working group is due to report to ministers shortly with their findings from the call for evidence and advice on a potential way forward.
”We will need to consider how a DRS or other behavioural incentives would fit with other planned work, such as wider reform of the packaging waste producer responsibility regime and the call for evidence on the potential for taxes or charges for single-use plastics, in order to avoid producers or consumers being charged multiple times for the same products.”
Committee chair Mary Creagh (pictured) accused ministers of delaying a DRS: “The Government needs to take decisive action on this important issue instead of kicking it into the long grass. The resources and waste strategy should adopt our recommendations to kick-start more sustainable production of plastics.”