The only way to turn the plastic tide is to hit plastic producers where it hurts – their pockets.
Use of virgin plastics will be discouraged by a 30 percent tax, but a charge on single-use coffee cups will not go ahead, chancellor Philip Hammond said yesterday as he unveiled his annual budget.
The tax will apply to the production and import of plastic packaging which does not contain at least 30 percent recycled plastic, and will be brought in from April 2022.
“This will address the current situation where recycling rates of plastic are too low, plastic producers use little recycled plastic and some problematic items are rarely recycled and often end up in the natural environment,” Hammond said.
The government also intends to strengthen incentives for producers to design packaging that is easier to recycle, and not use materials that are not, such as black plastics. Consultations on both measures will be held soon. Hammond also announced £20 million towards innovation on plastics sustainability.
The government said that it did not believe that taxing disposable cups would be effective in encouraging reuse, but pledged to reconsider action if businesses do not make sufficient progress voluntarily. It also mooted a future tax on incineration to boost recycling.
Hitting producers where it hurts
Friends of the Earth plastic campaigner Julian Kirby welcomed the tax on virgin plastic packaging, but said that the chancellor going cold on the latte levy was “astonishing”.
“If we’re going to stem the huge tide of plastic waste pouring into UK waterways every year, far bolder action is needed,” she said.
Sarah Baulch, senior oceans campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, said that the tax would only address the “very tip of the plastic iceberg”, and that ambitious reduction targets were needed across all single use plastics. “The only way to turn the plastic tide is to hit plastic producers where it hurts – their pockets.
“Until retailers and producers are forced to foot the bill for the devastating environmental costs associated with the throwaway culture they facilitate, they lack incentive to slash their plastic footprint and switch to reusable and refillable packaging,” she said.
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for the Ecologist. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Environmentalist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.