Preparing for a plastics tax

Plans for a tax on plastic packaging received further attention and scrutiny as the Government’s public consultation on the measure closed on 20 August

The proposal was first announced during the 2018 budget, when it was made clear the tax would operate from April 2022 and would apply to the production and import of all plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content, subject to consultation.

Veolia’s Tim Duret said the tax was “the key that the country needs to unlock the next step towards meeting our targets and becoming truly sustainable.” If we are to deliver on including a high level of recycled content in packaging, he said, what is fundamental is “a strong financial driver on reuse and recycled content, and to ensure that the system is changed to allow real eco-design to commence.” He said: “If done right, this is exactly what the Plastic’s Packaging Tax will offer.”

A report from charity RECOUP (Recycling of Used Plastics) explored different scenarios whereby UK recycling infrastructure may be unable to cope with the demands of the new tax.

The group said there was no barrier presented in terms of the sorting capacities available at Material Recycling Facilities (MRFs) and Plastic Recovery Facilities (PRFs) in the UK. However, it did say there were “significant shortfalls in reprocessing capacity”. The existing level of operational output – estimated at 230k tonnes – would have to double by 2022, it concluded.

“There are also challenging commercial conditions and fine profit margins in this sector,” said a statement from the group, “with very specific operational and technical challenges around reprocessing plastic film, non-bottle PET and food grade packaging.”

Industry group NAWDO (The National Association of Waste Disposal Officers) welcomed the tax, but also wanted the government to consider making it visible to end users and consumers of plastic packaging – to ensure alignment with the desired behavioural changes that are the motivation behind things like EPR and DRS schemes.

NAWDO also urged the Government “to be ready and sufficiently resourced to undertake a review of the tax 2-3 years after implementation”, in comments made to LetsRecycle. This was important to ensure the tax was having the desired effect, and to exploit possible synergies that might be presented between the tax and things like EPR and DRS.