A think tank has called for UK to phase out waste plastics exports, but it has stopped short of calling for them to be banned.
Policy Connect said in its report Plastic Packaging Plan: Achieving Zero ‘Waste’ Exports, that the UK should invest in reprocessing infrastructure both to create jobs here and reduce plastics pollution overseas.
Chief executive Jonathan Shaw said: “Britain’s used plastic export habit is costing our economy and the planet.
“We can no longer sweep our plastic rubbish problem under other countries’ carpets. British consumers want to recycle more but our lack of reprocessing plants and circular policies are letting them down.
”We need a bold national plastics plan that we can all be proud of to protect the marine environment, kick-start infrastructure investment and jobs, and boost UK demand for recycled plastics.”
The report said that between 2010-17, the UK exported 4.15 million tonnes of used plastic packaging, enough to fill Wembley stadium 26 times.
It said such exports were bad for consumers, the climate and marine life because they led to increased greenhouse gas emissions from shipping and to UK plastic ending up in landfills or oceans across the world.
This reliance on exports had come about despite the UK having “one of most proactive recycling regimes in the world”, producing an estimated 3.5 million tonnes a year of recyclable plastic packaging waste.
But the diverse approaches adopted by local authorities to recycling often confuse consumers who wished to recycle plastics, and the country suffered a lack of investment in recycling and reprocessing infrastructure.
Lord Deben, chair of the Committee on Climate Change, said: “The right policy roadmap can turn our plastic waste problem into an economic opportunity for the UK to lead the world in waste processing, recycled plastic and energy-from-waste innovation and jobs.”
A group of MPs, including Labour’s Geraint Davies – a sponsor of this report – have also tabled a parliamentary motion calling for a ban on plastic waste exports.
The motion has no chance of being debated, but Recycling Association chief executive Simon Ellin last week warned that such a ban could cause the collapse of the entire UK recycling system.