‘Unprecedented’ public support for tax reforms to tackle plastic waste

An unprecedented number of respondents to a UK Government consultation examining plastic waste have called for the implementation of increased rates of tax on virgin plastics, coupled with tax breaks for manufacturers using post-consumer recycled (PCR) content.

The Treasury has revealed that more than 162,000 people – including 222 representatives from retailers, waste management firms and green campaign groups – responded to its consultation on how the nation’s tax system could be used to reduce plastic waste. The response was the highest in the Treasury’s history.

Tax breaks for manufacturers using recycled content and an increased rate of tax on hard-to-recycle materials received “noteworthy public support” during the three-month consultation, the Treasury said in a statement. Financial incentives to encourage plastic recycling over incineration and fiscal measures to reduce the demand for single-use items were also backed by the public.

During the consultation, the Treasury additionally received a petition calling for the introduction of a “visible tax on throwaway plastic”, which more than 247,000 signatories said “should happen at the point of sale”, similarly to the current 5p plastic carrier bag charge.

These measures will now be considered ahead of the Autumn Budget, paving the way for potential policy alterations such the introduction of a “latte levy” on disposable coffee cups and tax incentives for recycling.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond confirmed in a statement that Ministers would discuss the “most promising” policies mooted in the consultation “in-depth” over the coming months, with a final decision to be announced at Budget in November.

“We are committed to taking appropriate action through the tax system as well as through a wider government commitment to addressing this problem,” Hammond said.

“We are determined to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. By tackling the scourge of plastic waste, we can secure a cleaner, greener future for our country.”

The results of the consultation come shortly after Defra’s deputy director of waste and recycling, Chris Preston, revealed that the Government’s new Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS) is set to include increased rates of tax on virgin materials, coupled with tax breaks for manufacturers using recycled content in their products,

Speaking at an Aldersgate Group event in London earlier this year, Preston additionally mooted eco-modulated fees and a reform of the nation’s Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) system for inclusion in the strategy, which is due for publication before the end of the year.

‘A people’s plastic charter’

The responses to the consultation were welcomed by green campaign groups, with Greenpeace’s senior plastic pollution campaigner Louise Edge claiming that the summary of evidence will serve as a “people’s plastic charter”.

“The so-called latte levy on disposable coffee cups seems inevitable now, but that should be just the tip of the iceberg,” Edge added. “The public are now calling on the government to tax single-use plastic, incentivise recycled content, get rid of problem plastics and boost recycling rather than incineration.”

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) also voiced support for some of the measures proposed by the consultation, confirming it will “work collaboratively with Treasury to make this a reality”.

“A plastic tax will have the biggest impact when it is aimed at production and manufacturing and we are pleased to see that the Treasury is looking at how to encourage greater use of recycled plastic at the start of the waste cycle,” the ESA’s executive director Jacob Hayler said.

However, Hayler criticised the suggestion that a tax on plastic incineration would lead to increased plastic packaging recycling rates, which currently stand at just 38% nationwide

“The reality is that Energy from Waste (EfW) is a much-needed alternative to landfill for waste which cannot be recycled,” he added. “The Treasury should recognise the valuable role of EfW in putting waste that we cannot recycle to further use and use tax effectively to target those who manufacture non-recyclable plastic.”

Sarah George

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