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Unrecyclable packaging debated in Westminster

A potential ban on unrecyclable packaging has been debated in Westminster Hall, with the Government maintaining its stance for a voluntary approach.

The issue was raised by Conservative MP David Mackintosh after an online petition gained more than 75,000 signatures.

Mackintosh and other speakers, including Labour MP Barry Sheerman, supported the ban, while others disputed the environmental benefit of removing all unrecyclable packaging from the market.

Conservative MP Mark Pawsey, chairman of the all-party group for the packaging manufacturing industry, said: “A great deal of what is contained in the e-petition is not practical.”

He gave the example of food packaging, which often uses multiple polymer plastic wrapping to protect the product from hazardous material. A cucumber, he argued, is kept fresh for 14 days by preventing moisture loss through its cellophane wrapping.

Pawsey also disputed the benefit of compostable packaging, saying it could end up being a contaminant if incorrectly sent for recycling.

With regards to excess packaging, he said it was within businesses’ interests to use as little material as possible.

“There is absolutely no point in over-packaging, and no point in creating too much or in making the plastic or board out of too thick a gauge – that would add cost unnecessarily,” he said.

Pawsey mentioned the Industry Council for research on Packaging and the Environment (Incpen), which earlier in the day posted on social media its concerns about a potential ban.

Resources minister Therese Coffey (pictured) delivered the Government’s response, refusing to back a ban on unrecyclable packaging.

“It is ultimately for businesses to decide what packaging materials they use to supply products to customers, and for customers to make choices on the products they buy,” she said.

Coffey said current packaging regulations incentivised businesses to use less packaging and ensure it can be recycled.

On other issues, Coffey said tackling urban recycling was her second priority behind air quality.

She also appeared to dispute the waste hierarchy when she said: “In environmental terms, it is generally better to bury plastic than to burn it.”

Coffey reaffirmed Defra’s commitment to meeting the 50% household recycling target by 2020 and said the department expected to introduce the circular economy package into law.

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