There’s a massive shift coming for the waste sector, what are the changes and what impact will they have?
The plastic tax will primarily affect producers of plastic packaging, those who import plastic packaging and will therefore have knock on consequences for business customers of importers and producers of waste and those of us who use the items. It will apply to all plastic packaging that does not contain at least 30% recycled materials. This will provide a financial incentive for businesses to use recycled rather than virgin materials in the production of plastic packaging. It is hoped it will create greater demand for plastic, increasing recycling rates and diversion from landfill and incineration, as well as driving improvements in recycling technologies. The proposed tax (as of March 2020) will be £200 per tonne for packaging containing less than 30% recycled material. Hopefully businesses will not pass on the cost of the tax to consumers, rather modifying their packaging to fall within the exempt materials, i.e. changing from plastic to another easily recycled material, or increasing the recycled proportion of their product. With increased consumer awareness around recycling it would be foolish of producers to think customers wouldn’t notice the increase and potentially buy elsewhere. The impact on businesses may be significant – over 20,000 producers are predicted to be affected, with small local businesses potentially struggling to make changes in time.
Extended Producer Responsibility
Extended producer responsibility (EPR), will hopefully be in place from 2023 – to give businesses time between now and then to enact change. EPR means working with producers of waste to make sure packaging is all recyclable and necessary, and that labelling for recyclability is accurate. As explained by Europen the body representing packaging supply chain: “Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging is a policy approach that extends the producer’s responsibility for a product beyond their current scope – for worker health and safety, consumer safety and production costs – to also include the management of their product’s packaging after the product has been used by consumers. EPR policies generally shift the waste management cost or physical collection partially or fully from local governments to producers. Policies can also involve incentives for producers to take environmental considerations into account when designing their products.” Within the sector this is the biggest shake up of packaging since 1997 when the packaging waste regulations were first introduced. Financially it shifts the cost of collecting many household waste items from the taxpayer to the original producers of the waste. It incentivises them to produce less waste, it will also mean they have to take a more active part in educating and encouraging the public to reduce littering and recycle properly.
Deposit return scheme
Consumers will pay a slightly higher price for their items but this includes a deposit for the packaging. The consumer then gets a refund when they return their packaging for reuse. In countries already using DRS litter levels are lower whilst recycling rates are typically higher. The most commonly returned items are those that are easy to sterilise and refill between uses such as plastic bottles and glass, and for those items very easily recycled such as metal drinks cans. These are also some of the most commonly littered items. The deposit amount can be as low as 20p per item so is designed to be affordable and accessible to everyone. Scotland are rolling out DRS in July 2022 for all single use drinks containers (metal, plastic and glass) – any premises that sell these items have to offer a return scheme whilst other businesses such as shopping centres or bus stations can volunteer to be a return point. Zero Waste Scotland are predicting that there will be 34000 fewer plastic bottles littered a day, and that an extra 76000 tonnes of material will be recycled annually!
Standardising materials collected
All local authorities will have to collect the same core list of materials from the kerbside. Thus far those materials will be: glass bottles & jars; paper; card; plastic bottles (including detergent, shampoo and cleaning products); plastic pots, tubs and trays; food and beverage cartons; steel and aluminium tins and cans. A key figure in these proposals is WRAP – the Waste & Resources Action Programme who are a registered charity. Wrap works with businesses, individuals and communities to achieve a circular economy, by helping them reduce waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way. WRAP estimates that 70% of local authorities already collect these materials. There is also a plan to introduce separated food waste collections (independent of green or garden waste collections) as part of the changes to core materials – food waste is currently collected by 51% of local authorities but typically as part of green waste collections. Collecting food waste weekly, and separately to green waste has shown much higher participation rates and higher volumes than collections where food and garden waste are mixed. WRAP also suggests restricting the size of general waste containers to encourage residents to make more use of their recycling provision. Not only will the types of material be standardised but containers will also be colour coded nationally. So far there are three suggestions for how this will work (figure 1).
Unfortunately, we don’t currently have the infrastructure to support this plan, and it’s not clear how these changes will be financed – from central government or by each local authority? The main issue is that we have relatively few material processing facilities in the UK, so with an increase in the number of local authorities sending materials, capacity to recycle the materials won’t necessarily be in place. This also increases the amount of carbon involved – recycling will have to travel further to get to the recycling place. We need a whole system approach to solve this problem.
In summary: By 2025 packaging is designed to be recyclable, where practical and environmentally beneficial, and is labelled clearly to indicate whether it can be recycled or not. Every household in England can recycle a common set of dry recyclable materials and food waste, collected in one of three different ways. Producers will be financially responsible for ensuring their materials are recycled, the onus will be on them to educate their customers. As well as ensuring that their packaging contains only necessary plastics, is made up of at least 30% of recycled plastics and is recyclable at the end of its usable life. I am honestly really excited about these changes. If handled well, especially the education and awareness aspects it will have a significant impact on the volumes of waste generated, contamination rates and reduce littering.
As these plans come into action, or we get more information about which materials are involved, and who will be financing each of the stages/changes I will of course provide updates via our Zero Waste Newsletter, our Zero Waste York Facebook group and these blogs.
This post was written by our Waste and Recycling Manager Sam Taylor.