UK to tax plastic packaging with less than 30% of recycled content

Niall Swan


LONDON (ICIS)–The UK government said on Monday it plans to introduce a tax on produced or imported plastic packaging that does not include at least 30% of recycled content.

The country’s Chancellor Philip Hammond said during his Budget speech that the cabinet is aiming to introduce the tax by April 2022, following a consultation process.

“This is a brand-new tax and will be a world leading approach. Business will have until April 2022 to adapt their processes before the introduction of the tax,” said the UK cabinet on its website.

“This will give them time to adjust their behaviour and manage any costs they face while ensuring action is still taken to tackle this important environmental issue.”

According to figures from the government, 2.26m tonnes/year of plastic packaging are used in the UK, with the vast majority being made from new plastic, rather than recycled material.

“This is because recycled plastic is often more expensive than new plastic, despite its lower environmental impacts,” said the government.

Alongside the announcement of the tax, the government said it will assign £20m to tackle plastics and boost recycling:

– £10m will be allocated to plastics research and development (R&D);

– £10m will be allocated to support innovative approaches to boosting recycling and reducing litter, such as smart bins, during the 2019-2020 period.

Hammond added that a tax on plastic coffee cups was being considered, although it was ultimately deemed that it would not have a sufficient impact.

However, in the UK’s extended culture of coffee on the go, where millions of single-used cups are disposed every year, the Chancellor said the government would be continually monitoring the situation.

The budget also announced an investment of £1.6bn in R&D for industrial science and innovation, including investment in future manufacturing and nuclear fusion.

UK trade groups the British Plastics Federation (BPF) and the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) were not available for comment at the time of writing.

Plastics analysts, however, warned that the tax might ultimately increase costs for consumers.

Philip Marshall, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) analyst at consultancy Wood Mackenzie, also said that the main challenge with plastics is the “challenging” collection process post-use.

PET is a plastic widely used for the production of bottles.

“Recyclate availability is proving difficult to increase and then re-use. If there is a greater demand placed on recyclate used within packaging production, due to today’s [Monday] proposed tax, the cost of said packaging is likely to rise in the short-to-medium term,” he said.

“Historically, these charges have been taken by brand owners and producers. Additionally, there are technical difficulties – with no speedy solutions available – to overcome.

“To ensure 30% recycled PET is used in packaging in the first place, this material will need to be collected and reused – which still remains one of the biggest hurdles to overcome.”

Focus article by Niall Swan

Additional reporting from Jonathan Lopez


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