The Chancellor used his first Spring Statement today (13 March) to announce the call for evidence, which will examine the potential for charge on items such as plastic plates, takeaway boxes and polystyrene packaging, building on the success of the existing plastic carrier bag charge.

The nine-week consultation will look at the “whole supply chain” for single-use plastics, and examine ways to deliver renewable alternatives and recycling opportunities. Interested parties will be invited to suggest how high specific tax rates might be.

Addressing the Commons earlier, Hammond said: “It [the call for evidence] will look at how the tax system can help drive the technological process and behavioural change that we need, not as a way of raising revenue, but as a way of changing behaviour and encouraging innovation.”

Hammond has set aside £20m for an innovation fund that will help businesses and universities to discover new solutions to tackle plastic waste. This move was immediately welcomed by trade body the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which also encouraged further financial incentives such as reform of the UK producer responsibility scheme for packaging.

FDF’s chief scientific officer Helen Munday said: “It is vital that these innovations and other actions take full account of the important role of plastics in protecting and preserving food products throughout the food and drink supply chain.

“Plastics have become an integral part of ensuring food safety and help to prevent and minimise food waste, and those roles must be filled to ensure a safe, affordable, and sustainable food and drink value chain.”

Greenpeace UK senior political adviser Rebecca Newsom said in response to today’s announcement: “The success of the plastic bag charge shows that a smart tax on plastic can work, so it’s good to see the Chancellor reconfirm his commitment to look into this.

“The main problem with single-use plastic is that we produce far too much of it in the first place.

“There should be more pressure on supermarkets and food giants to cut down the amount of throwaway plastic they put in circulation, and it should go hand in hand with a UK-wide deposit-return scheme for all drinks containers that can boost collection rates.”

The Spring Statement also included proposed consultations on reduced VED rates for the cleanest vans, and the potential contribution of non-agricultural red diesel tax relief to air pollution in urban areas. 

Resource efficiency drive

Last year’s Autumn Budget outlined the Government’s intention to consult on a plastics tax system, before the 25-Year Environment Plan pledged to eliminate all “avoidable” plastics waste by 2042.

The consultation document also hints at a charge on disposable coffee cups, despite last week’s refusal from ministers to create a 25p “latte levy”.

The 25p was recommended by the Environmental Audit Committee, which said money raised could pay for improved recycling facility.

The Government’s response suggested that coffee shops should offer discounts for customers with reusable cups, instead of a levy on disposable cups.

The EAC has also criticised the Government for “dragging its feet” over a national deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and containers. 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.

George Ogleby

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie