Government ‘dragging its feet’ over deposit return scheme for plastics, MPs claim

The UK Government is exploring how changes to packaging producer responsibilities and a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and containers would be implemented in the UK, but the lack of action has been described as "unacceptable" by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

Last week, the UK Government finally provided responses to the EAC’s Plastic Bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide recommendation report, published in December 2017. The report championed the role that a deposit return scheme and changes to producer responsibility schemes could have in increasing UK recycling rates and reducing the amount of plastics littering the oceans.

MPs believe that a deposit return scheme would help to boost the UK’s plastic recycling rate to 90%, mirroring the success of the scheme in some Scandinavian countries. However, the Government’s response to the EAC wants to avoid any duplication of taxes aimed at consumers or producers.

The Voluntary and Economic Incentives working group will report to ministers “shortly” with findings from a call to evidence on a deposit scheme, following a consultation in October 2017. The Government has pledge to eliminate all “avoidable” plastic waste by the end of 2042, as part of the 25-Year Environment Plan.

“We will need to consider how a Deposit Return Scheme or other behavioural incentives would fit with other planned work,” the Government response states. “Such as wider reform of the packaging waste producer responsibility regime and the call for evidence on the potential for taxes or charges for single-use plastics, in order to avoid producers or consumers being charged multiple times for the same products.”

Government statistics outline the progress made to date on plastic recycling. The amount of plastic packaging being recycled is up 20%, with the amount heading to landfill falling by 9.5% compared to the prior year. Collection for recycling has increased, from less than 13,000 tonnes in 2000 to more than 343,000 tonnes in 2016.

The EAC claims that the UK uses 38.5 million plastic bottles daily, of which 15 million are not recycled. Despite companies like Tesco and Coca-Cola publicly backing a return scheme, which will be implemented in Scotland, the UK Government continues to distance itself from the scheme.

Commenting on the Government’s response, the EAC’s chair Mary Creagh MP said: “The Government is dragging its feet on introducing a deposit return scheme. Every day the Government delays, another 700,000 plastic bottles end up in our streets.

“This delay is unacceptable; the Government must get its ducks in a row. The Government needs to take decisive action on this important issue instead of kicking it into the long grass.”

Producer Responsibility

The Government will publish a new Resources and Waste Strategy later this year, which will shed light on another key instrument in the fight against packaging waste. Producer Responsibility Obligations (PROs) create a legal obligation for packaging producers to ensure that a proportion of their marketed products are recovered and recycled. Businesses can show evidence of their compliance by purchasing Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs).

For the UK, this cost is around €20 per tonne, but other European nations have an average for producer responsibility at around €150 per tonne. PROs from UK businesses currently contribute to just 10% of the cost of waste disposal, with taxpayers paying the remaining 90%. According to the Local Government Association, this limited compliance scheme generated £111m in 2013, of which just £37m went towards collection. In contrast, it costs local authorities £550m to collect and sort packaging material.

The Government revealed that under the new resources plan, secondary material markets will be promoted, while producers will be incentivised to design products better. The EAC is calling for a compliance fee structure to reward designs for recyclability.

“We are exploring changes to the packaging producer responsibility scheme,” The Government response states. “This will look at all aspects of the regime, including mechanisms to incentivise better design, encourage the use of recycled material and provide greater transparency for producer funding.”

The Government will utilise a four-step plan to encourage producers to design products with all potential environmental impacts accounted for. The response notes a desire for producers to “rationalise the number of different types of plastic in use”, reduce demand for single-use plastic, make it easier for people to recycle and improve the overall rate of recycling.

A new anti-litter campaign, led by the Government and funded by the private sector, will also give more enforcement powers to local authorities to tackle waste.

“Producers should be responsible for the packaging they produce, but shortfalls in the producer responsibility system have allowed producers to use complex, difficult to recycle plastics,” Creagh added.

“The Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy should adopt our recommendations to kick start more sustainable production of plastics.”

Water refills

One method to cut the amount of plastic water bottles in circulation is the Refill campaign, which seeks to create a national network of high street retailers, coffee shops, businesses and local authorities offering stations for the public to refill their water bottles.

Water companies, through Water UK, are now working on the Refill scheme along with Defra. Water companies in England will all publish plans to reduce single-use plastic bottles in their regions in September 2018.

Mary Creagh at edie Live

Mary Creagh will be speaking at the Resource Efficiency theatre at day one of edie Live in the NEC, Birmingham, discussing the business implications of the 25-Year Environment plan alongside WRAP’s chief executive Marcus Glover and tech UK’s head of environment Susanne Baker.

Running between 22 – 23 May 2018, edie Live plans to show delegates how they can achieve their Mission Possible. Through the lens of energy, resources, the built environment, mobility and business leadership an array of expert speakers will be on hand to inspire delegates to achieve a sustainable future. For more information click here.

Matt Mace

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