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Tax changes could boost recycling infrastructure

Public backing for proposals to combat single-use plastic waste could lead to the Treasury implementing a tax on virgin polymers and exported waste in order to stimulate the market in secondary materials.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said more than 162,000 responses were received for the department’s call for evidence on plastic waste, showing “an extraordinary” level of public interest. He has published a summary of responses and proposed Government actions in Tackling the Plastic Problem.

Treasury officials said will examine ideas raised including using the tax system to shift demand towards using recycled plastic in manufacturing, encouraging more sustainable design, reducing demand for single-use plastic items and an incineration tax.

The Treasury said some respondents felt that including waste exported for recycling within UK performance measures, “further discourages investment in recycling capacity”, while recyclers, in particular, suggested that packaging recovery notes (PRNs) and PERNs having equal value “encouraged the export of waste for recycling”. They called instead for a tax on exported waste to support domestic recycling.

There was also support for using tax to change the relative value of virgin and recycled polymers, to increase demand for the latter and encourage and expansion of recycling capacity.

Consumer attitudes and confusion were considered problems by many respondents, who pointed to inconsistencies in waste collection systems and labelling complexity.

Most respondents highlighted among the main barriers to increased investment in recycling infrastructure the lack of end markets for recycled plastic material and the absence of any requirement to use recycled content.

The consultation drew sharply differing responses in its section on alternative plastics.

While producers of oxo-biodegradable additives recommended that these should be added to all plastic packaging, “many other stakeholders strongly disagreed and a small number suggested banning them”.

Most recyclers and waste management companies opposed alternative plastics because “they would lead to greater consumer confusion in terms of separating recycling”, and could cause contamination if they broke down after being inadvertently added to general waste streams.

The Treasury said biodegradable or compostable substitute plastics “may contribute to tackling plastic waste but the responses…reflect that there is still uncertainty on the impacts of these materials”.

A forthcoming bioeconomy strategy would examine setting standards for these materials.

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