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Recycling industry tells Treasury to tax virgin plastics

plastic straws

Industry bodies have urged the Treasury to deploy new taxes to discourage single-use plastics and the use of virgin materials, while increasing the proportion of the materials that can be recycled.

A Treasury consultation on Tackling the Plastics Problem closed this week having attracted tens of thousands of responses, a spokesperson said. Any changes are likely to have to wait for the next Budget.

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) said in its response: “Imposing a tax or charge can be a very effective route to changing human behaviour.

“Taxing virgin content would tend to promote the use of recycled content. Taxing the use of polymers (such as PVC or polystyrene) or polymer combinations (such as multi-material composites) that are particularly problematic for recycling would encourage a switch away from them to others. Taxing the fossil-based content would encourage plant-based feedstock usage.”

The CIWM said a tax on single-use plastic items, “can play a role in raising consumer awareness exactly as the single-use carrier bag levy has done”, and highlighted the potential of a levy on single-use plastics used for picnics and parties to encourage people to hire such items instead.

Any unavoidable single-use products should be required to be made from single polymers so that consumers could see easily if these were recyclable, it said.

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) told the Treasury it “favours using taxation to encourage the use of recycled content”, and that the sugar tax could serve as a model.

It proposed a high tax on plastic packing with no recycled content, a lower tax for those with some recycled content and no tax on those that hit agreed targets – for example 50% recycled content.

“This would increase demand for recycled content and ensure a strong, long-term end market,” it said.

The ESA said a ‘virgin polymer use tax’ separate from both packaging recovery notes and the proposed deposit return scheme “should be considered alongside mandated minimums within the essential requirements of the packaging regulations and using VAT exemptions”.

Virgin polymer taxes with tax breaks for more sustainable materials were also supported by the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (Larac). But it said these would be workable only if sustainable alternatives were available at competitive prices.

Using taxes to encourage businesses to design products with low environmental impacts would better balance responsibility for managing plastics waste between manufacturers, retailers and local authorities, it said, with “significant savings for local authorities”.

But the Association of Convenience Stores warned in its evidence against taxes that would burden small retailers.

Chief executive James Lowman said: “We encourage the Government to continue looking at innovative and sustainable ways to reduce single-use plastics, but would caution against any measures that result in what would effectively be taxing retailers and/or consumers twice on the same products.”

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