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Business Regulation

UK unveils new plastic packaging tax to boost recycling and tackle waste

“The proposed £200 per tonne, while less than the sums originally mentioned, will be inflationary for plastic packaging using materials for which recycled content is not possible under food contact regulations and for which alternative plastics cannot be used.”

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has announced a tax for plastic packaging in a bid to tackle waste and create a market for recycled plastic.

It is an idea originally mooted by the European Commission (EC). In 2018, the EC announced plans to tax non-recycled plastic packaging waste.

“To tackle the scourge of plastic waste, we will deliver our manifesto promise to introduce a new plastics packaging tax,” said Sunak in his first UK Budget announcement today. “From April 2022, we will charge manufacturers and importers £200 per tonne on packaging made of less than 30% recycled plastic”.

The Chancellor’s Budget document stated: “The government is committed to improving waste management, boosting recycling and reducing plastic pollution.”

A consultation has been launched on the plastic tax today and will open until May 2020. This consultation seeks views on the scope of the tax, the liability of the tax and evidence bases.

In the past, it was easy to landfill plastic because it was cheap to do so. Also, in the past, it has not been ‘visible’ to many consumers. However, in the past few years, the world has changed. TV personalities like Sir David Attenborough have highlighted the issue or littering and pollution. This has led some politicians to tackle plastic waste.

Reacting to today’s budget, Martin Kersh, director at trade body Foodservice Packaging Association, told Bio Market Insights: “The Chancellor, by introducing a tax to encourage use of recycled content, has sent a clear signal that recycling is an essential part of the strategy to achieving net zero emissions.  The application of a £200 per tonne tax on plastics containing less than 30% recycled content to both imported as well UK produced plastic packaging means the government has dropped its original intention to exclude imported filled packaging from the tax, a policy change we very much welcome.

“The proposed £200 per tonne, while less than the sums originally mentioned, will be inflationary for plastic packaging using materials for which recycled content is not possible under food contact regulations and for which alternative plastics cannot be used.  We would like to see this difficulty acknowledged and are concerned there is no mechanism for ensuring plastic packaging producers can pass the tax on to their customers.  This could threaten the future of some producers.

“The gradual increase in recycled content by some producers should also be recognised by introducing a variable rate so that those businesses that have achieved say 5% recycled content are rewarded, noting also the increase in demand for recycled content will continue to increase the cost of recycled plastics with UK businesses competing globally for rPET and recycled HDPE.

“We welcome the consultation also announced today which confirms an exemption to the tax for all packaging where plastic is a minority ingredient.  However the announcement of a de minimus for those placing less than 10 tonnes of packaging per year on the market needs to be assessed to ensure it doesn’t create an uneven playing field.  We also hope this does not create a precedent for producer responsibility reforms.

“We welcome the decision not to impose a levy on paper cups. This recognises the excellent work undertaken by the sector in collecting and recycling cups

“We welcome business rate relief for smaller hospitality operators as well as measures to help businesses, especially smaller ones, during the coronavirus crisis.  The recognition of the significance of the hospitality sector to the UK economy and the need to maintain it is long overdue and credit must go to both the British Hospitality Association and the British Takeaway Campaign for their lobbying.”


If you were interested in this bioeconomy story, you may also be interested in reading the ones below.

Read: Expert view: Solving the plastic packaging problem

Read:European Commission urges industry to do more to boost recycled plastics market.

Read:The Blue Planet effect kick-starts focus on plastic use in UK but Brexit and funding challenges remain.

Read: European Commission takes aim at ‘greenwashing’ in new circular economy action plan

Read: European Commission unveils proposal for EU’s ‘first-ever’ climate law

Read: European Green Deal: Bioplastics to play a crucial role in making the deal become reality.

Read: Bioeconomy policy monitor

Read: Bioplastics to ‘play key role’ in implementation of circular economy and EU environmental directives.

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