Peter Atterby, managing director of plastics firm Luxus, discusses treasury plans to investigate how the tax system and charges on single use plastics can reduce waste.
The chancellor will be seeking a solution now for all ‘consumption on the go’ packaging which includes coffee cups, drinks bottles and other disposable items which may be taxed.
Tax is a blunt instrument
This so called ‘call for evidence’ must be done efficiently if it’s to be truly effective. Government interventions should require detailed consultation with the entire supply chain to help improve recycling rates and reduce environment impacts.
The proposed tax on packaging is a ‘blunt instrument’ to deal with the complex issue of how to better improve recycling rates. I don’t believe this tax is the way forward, instead investment in our domestic recycling infrastructure is what’s really required to allow for improvements in waste processing and future innovations.
Yet in recent years, the government has failed to support the industry’s repeatedly calls for investment in materials recovery facilities.
What is desperately required is long-term support, a proper five-year commitment to enable sustained growth. While a harmonized collection policy too is required to help improve the quality of materials for recycling and make is easier for consumers themselves to recycle.
For far too long we have relied on exporting as a cheap ‘end-of-life’ solution for our poorly collected waste – this situation must change particularly as the impact of China’s waste ban is beginning to be felt, improvements in the quality of waste need to be made.
Although this tax will be imposed on manufacturers, the resulting knock-on costs are likely to be passed on to the consumer with increased prices on many products from coffee cups to food trays.
Cleaning up marine litter
While we welcome initiatives that aim to clean up our oceans, we should note the UK is not a major plastics polluter. According to the British Plastics Foundation (BPF), ‘Only 2% of ocean litter comes from the UK, Europe and the USA combined and the plastics industry has invested in hundreds of initiatives to stop plastics leaking into the environment.’
Luxus is also a supporter of Operation Clean Sweep, an international initiative let by the BPF to help reduce pellet loss to the environment. By signing up to Operation Clean Sweep companies adhere to best practice and implement systems to prevent pellet loss – a positive step forward.
But most importantly, we should remember that plastics has long been the material of choice for the food and drinks packaging industries for many reasons. It offers numerous benefits from helping to reduce food waste to reducing CO2 emissions – rather than being the scurge as described by the chancellor.
To ensure that plastics recycling continues at its current rate, we need to focus on processing the previously unrecyclable. We need to innovate to help capture new waste streams and divert them into efficient recovery processing.
Yet to date, despite a novel colourant technology having been developed to support the sorting of black food packaging waste for example, it has yet to be adopted still by the supply chain.
Despite awareness, supermarkets have been slow to make the necessary change that would prevent 1.3 billion black food trays going to landfill each year.
We have even taken this technology a stage further, by looking beyond packaging itself. As a result, Luxus has recently secured £1.29m in EU funding from the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
The funding is to support the development of infra-red reflecting (IRR) colourant technology to enable the effective sorting of both black and coloured plastics that were previously unrecyclable. This aims to enable the automotive sorting of consumer durables to automotive components.
It will enable more manufacturers to take greater responsibility for the products they produce, by ensuring that they can be automatically sorted at the end-of-life to provide high quality plastics waste.
Finally, there remains a myth among some producers regarding the perceived quality of recycled content polymers as being somehow inferior to their prime alternatives. We need to overcome this myth if we are to make real progress with the adoption of recyclates.
Peter Atterby is managing director of Technical Compounder Luxus.
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