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MPs call for bold national Plastic Packaging Plan to help consumers protect our oceans and create green UK jobs

MPs call for bold national Plastic Packaging Plan to help consumers protect our oceans and create green UK jobs

14th February 2019

MPs call for bold national Plastic Packaging Plan to help consumers protect our oceans and create green UK jobs

Policy Connect report says zero plastic ‘waste’ export goal is needed to boost UK investment and jobs, cut emissions, protect marine life

If the UK wants to be a global environmental leader, it can no longer afford to sweep its plastic rubbish problem under other countries’ carpets, says a our new report launched 12 Feburary, calling for a bold national policy framework to reduce ocean plastic overseas and boost domestic infrastructure investment, innovation and green jobs.

The report from UK think-tank Policy Connect says an ambitious new roadmap is needed to deliver a coherent circular and sustainable plastics policy that consumers feel proud of and protects marine life from UK plastic.

The new report – Plastic Packaging Plan: Achieving  Zero ‘Waste’ Exports – is backed by 12 cross-party politicians and says the UK must urgently take back control of its share of the global plastics problem, highlighted in Sir David Attenborough’s hard-hitting Blue Planet TV series. It calls for new UK policies so UK plastic becomes a circular industrial resource, rather than exportable waste or environmental pollution.

Jonathan Shaw, chief executive of Policy Connect, said: “Britain’s used plastic export habit is costing our economy and the planet. We can no longer sweep our plastic rubbish problem under other countries’ carpets. British consumers want to recycle more but our lack of UK reprocessing plants and circular policies are letting them down. We need a bold national plastics plan that we can all be proud of to protect the marine environment, to kick-start infrastructure investment and jobs, and to boost UK demand for recycled plastics.”

‘Dirty Secret’: between 2010-17, the UK exported 4.15 million tonnes of used plastic packaging

No longer ‘the dirty man of Europe’, the UK enjoys one of most proactive recycling regimes in the world which produces an estimated 3.5million tonnes of recyclable plastic packaging waste every year. However, UK local authorities have developed diverse approaches to recycling, which can often be confusing for consumers. Furthermore, because of the lack of investment in recycling and re-processing infrastructure, waste-to-energy facilities and policy incentives, the UK currently exports two thirds of this to other countries – 4.15m metric tonnes over the past seven years; enough to fill Wembley stadiums 26 times, roughly 4.3 stadiums per year.

Exporting our waste is bad for consumers, bad for the climate, bad for marine life, bad for Britain

Exporting our waste not only increases greenhouse gas emissions from shipping but increases the volumes of UK plastic ending up in landfill or in oceans on the other side of the world. A ‘zero export’ policy for used plastic packaging would save the equivalent CO2 emissions from shipping as taking 45,000 cars off the road every year. China’s recent import ban on plastic waste has driven UK waste exports to countries like Malaysia (17%), Turkey (16%), Poland (12%) and Indonesia (11%)[1]. Many countries currently reprocessing our rubbish have lower worker welfare standards, weaker health and safety regulations, and weaker environmental protection than the UK.

A ‘Plastic Packaging Plan’ for Britain to be proud of

The report findings stop short of calling for a ban on exports but says the UK would benefit politically, economically, socially and environmentally from prioritising domestic processing over export. UK consumers want to do more for the environment so government must make it easier for local authorities to help them recycle more. The UK has the specialist innovation and skills to lead the global waste management sector.

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee says, “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.”

Key Findings:

The report contains 18 policy recommendations needed to develop a national Plastic Packaging Plan by 2030:

  • The UK uses 3.3m tonnes of plastic packaging every year, well above the EU average. Between 2010-17, the UK exported 4.15m metric tonnes of plastic packaging ‘waste’, enough to fill Wembley stadium 26 times.
  • Government must accelerate a radical and circular UK plastics plan policy, to cut plastic use (especially virgin plastic) and set clear policy targets, including a zero-export of plastic packaging ‘waste’ by 2030.
  • As China closes its ports to low quality UK recyclates, we need three times UK recycling infrastructure and jobs to handle this problem.
  • UK producers of plastic waste must urgently rethink packaging design, boost their recycling leadership ambition and innovation and drive greater demand for UK recyclates in UK production.
  • Government, producers and retailers must make packaging simpler and easier for consumers to recycle.
  • The government must set clear and bold targets for all local authorities; a dedicated Plastic Packaging Taskforce at the Environment Agency; and the National Infrastructure Committee (NIC) must urgently look at planning barriers to new recycling infrastructure.

Jacob Ainscough, author of the new Policy Connect report said: “Our oceans and their marine life are in crisis. Bolder UK regulations on packaging waste must deliver zero-export in UK plastic packaging by 2030. Our market-based recommendations in this report are backed by cross-party and business support and show that our environment and economy have much to gain from a radical, circular National Plastic Policy."