UK doubles aid support for plastic recycling in developing nations

The funding will be bolstered by contributions by other governments

At a Commonwealth Day event in Parliament on Monday evening (11 March), International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt announced that the amount of aid support available for recycling projects, plastic ‘clean-up’ schemes and research into plastic innovations will be increased from £3m in 2018 to £6m this year.

The funding is being assigned by the Department for International Development (DFID) and is set to be topped up by businesses such as Unilever and Coca-Cola, as well as waste management firms and regional and national governments in developing nations.

Projects in Ghana and Bangladesh, which were launched late last year, are the first to receive funding under the aid scheme. The aim of the Bangladesh project is to create a market for recycled plastic fibres to be used in garment manufacturing, while the Ghana scheme is focused on improving waste management and recycling infrastructure by leveraging private sector investment. The likes of Unilever Ghana, Dow Chemical Company and the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Ghana are collaboratively leading the latter.

“The UN estimates that there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050 unless we act to reduce our use and improve how waste is managed, particularly in poorer countries,” Mordaunt said.

“That’s why I am doubling UK aid’s support to projects in developing countries to increase plastic recycling – this will create jobs and reduce the harmful impact of plastic waste in our oceans.”

The first project to receive funding under the extended aim scheme will be a drive to increase the amount of single-use plastic bottles recovered and recycled in Uganda. A crucial aspect of the scheme is better pay and working conditions for waste collectors living in Kampala, with all schemes required to focus on the improvement of social and economic conditions as well as local environments.

DFID has additionally announced that it will match all funding raised through Tearfund’s plastics appeal, which is now aiming to raise £3m after surpassing its £2m target ahead of schedule. The money will be used to set up plastic recycling “hubs” across Pakistan, with the aim of preventing 150 million plastic bottles from polluting marine and land habitats annually.

Plastic waste exports

The announcement was welcomed by Sir David Attenborough, who told attendees in Parliament that the UK should view the amount of plastics it produces and exports as a “shame”.

“The mismanagement of plastic waste on land accounts for most of the plastic pollution in our waters,” he said.

“Around two billion people lack access to basic waste collection, which has ruinous impact on their health as well as killing wildlife in our oceans.”

At present, the UK is estimated to generate more than 3.3 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste every year, with two-thirds being exported for recycling abroad. In tandem, plastic pollution in many of the developing nations this waste is sent to is growing as economies improve at a faster pace than recycling infrastructures are bolstered, leading to waste crimes and plastic “leaks”.

In response to the issue, China confirmed last January that it would stop accepting 24 types of waste including plastics, spurring similar actions from policymakers in Malaysia, Vietnam and Poland. These moves have led the UK Government to up the amount of recyclable waste it exports to developing nations in East Africa and South East Asia, and to invest in global plastic reduction projects such as the Marine Plastics Research and Innovation Framework.

MPs, however, are now urging policymakers to implement laws which stop the UK from “passing the plastic buck” to the world’s poorest communities – including a “plastics budget” with ever-stricter legally binding goals.

With this context in mind, some businesses such as Danone and Princes are now choosing to recycle more of their packaging within the UK in order to minimise plastic leaks in their value chains and to fund improvements to British recycling infrastructure.

Corporates are also increasingly collaborating in multi-stakeholder partnerships aimed at tackling plastic pollution on a global scale, with a focus on developing nations. One such initiative is the Plastic Leak Project, which is seeking to develop a set of metrics enabling any organisation to assess where plastic pollution is being leaked into nature within its value chain. It has received the backing of 18 companies, including Adidas and McDonald’s, as well as several international committees. 

Sarah George

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