MPs call for UK to ban recyclable plastic exports by 2030

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MPs call for UK to ban recyclable plastic exports by 2030 in new Policy Connect report
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A new report from Policy Connect has called for a UK target of net zero exports of recyclable plastic packaging by 2030 at the latest. 

This suggestion is part of the think tank’s belief that there needs to be a bold national policy framework to reduce ocean plastic overseas and improve domestic infrastructure investment, innovation and green jobs. 

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The research is backed by politicians, including Anne Main MP, Rebecca Pow MP, Lord Deben, Baroness Jenkin, Anna McMorrin MP, Mary Creagh MP, Barry Sheerman MP, Matt Western MP, Chris Williamson MP, Lord Teverson, Lord Smith and Geraint Davies MP. 

This report, entitled Plastics Packaging Plan: Achieving Net Zero ‘Waste’ Exports, said that if the UK wants to be a global environment leader, it can no longer afford to ‘sweep its plastic rubbish problem under other countries carpets”. 

From this, it suggested that the UK should handle plastic packaging at home rather than exporting it abroad, and to drive this, the MPs involved have stated that the UK requires a target of net zero exports of recyclable plastic packaging by 2030 at the latest. 

This study follows high public concern, ongoing discussions around the UK’s separation from European Union regulations, and China shutting its doors to imports.  

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The Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS) is an ‘ambitious blueprint’ and achieving this will require a lot of investment in domestic recycling, said the think tank. Government consultations this year will be vital for ensuring the RWS leads to effective and well informed regulatory and policy changes. 

It also states that the UK must take back control of its share of the global plastics problem and calls for new UK policies, so UK plastic becomes a circular industrial resource.  

Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh MP said: “Exporting two thirds of the UK’s plastic waste overseas is bad for jobs, business and our environment. I welcome the call for the UK to commit to a bold target of zero exports of plastic packaging by 2030. Achieving this will require home-grown solutions such as implementing a Deposit Return Scheme by 2022 and applying a coffee cup levy as my Committee recommended. We can and must transition from exporting our plastic waste problem to growing our own solutions.” 

Within the report, recommendations have been made and are build on the direction of the RWS.  

For reducing plastic use, it recommends: 

  • Establishing a Plastic Packaging Taskforce within the Environment Agency, funded through registration fees for packaging compliance schemes 
  • Enforcement of the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations to be transferred from Trading Standards to the Environment Agency Plastic Packaging Taskforce 
  • Large retailers should demonstrate leadership by introducing zero packaging or reusable packaging options for appropriate products. 

Following the model of the Climate Change Act, increasing targets for recycling levels should be set as soon as possible by Defra. To provide stability to industry and investors, these targets should be fixed into law and stretch to at least 2035, said Policy Connect. 

For packaging design and reprocessing, it suggests

  • The Environment Agency Plastic Packaging Taskforce should work with industry to publish an ‘approved list’ of packaging materials and formats and develop protocols for updating this as technology advances 
  • The extended producer responsibility (EPR) system should be reformed to ensure local authorities, packaging schemes and waste managers work with shared objectives 
  • The Government should introduce increasing statutory minimums for the amount of domestic reprocessing producers must support, with a view to supporting 100% domestic reprocessing by 2030 at the latest. 

For waste collections it proposes: 

  • EPR funding for local authorities should be made conditional on them achieving recycling targets and implementing a collection consistency framework  
  • Local authorities and central government should explore new approaches for encouraging higher household recycling rates 
  • Recycling labels should be mandatory for packaging of all goods sold into the UK market. 

To help close the loop, it recommends a long-term pro-recycling campaign for use for new EPR funds, and that Westminster should work with devolved administrations to launch a UK-wide Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) with a focus on plastic beverage containers by 2021.  

Other proposals include: 

  • The point at which material is allowed to be classified as recycled should be changed to after reprocessing, including for any exported material 
  • The Treasury should set the percentage of recycled content target for their proposed tax at different levels for different packaging formats, depending on the availability of recycled material. The Treasury should devise a protocol for periodically revising these target percentages upwards as recycling improves. 

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