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Pressure mounts to reduce plastic waste

The UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee has issued two new reports on plastic recycling in the UK addressing plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups lined with plastic.

The first report, published in December 2017[4] reveals that in the last 15 years, consumption of bottled water in the UK has doubled such that water bottles now make up around half of all plastic bottles. We use 13 billion plastic bottles every year and only 7.5 billion are recycled. The remaining 5.5 billion are landfilled, littered or incinerated. Plastic bottles make up a third of all plastic pollution in the sea. In the recent BBC Blue Planet II documentary[5], David Attenborough highlighted the dangers for marine animals created by plastics in the oceans and the potential risk of plastic uptake to the whole food chain.

The Environmental Audit Committee has recommended that the Government introduces a Deposit Return Scheme, providing an economic incentive for consumers to recycle plastic bottles.

Deposit return schemes operate in several European countries, as well as parts of Australia and the US. The Committee heard evidence that a deposit return scheme could help remove 700,000 plastic bottles from being littered each day. Several major retailers including Tesco, Iceland and the Co-op have recently announced their backing for such a scheme[6].

The monies raised from the proposed scheme could be reinvested in plastic reprocessing facilities in the UK. The UK currently exports 280,000-320,000 tonnes of mixed plastic to China each year. Given the recent Chinese ban on mixed plastic waste from the UK, this investment is urgent to avoid a huge increase in landfill.

Plastic bottle manufacturers continue to use mixed polymer plastics, such as sleeve wrappings and coloured plastics, which contaminate the recycling stream and reduce the value of the recycled material. The Committee also recommends that the Government should introduce a mandated minimum use of 50% recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) in new plastic bottles by 2023 at the latest.

Government should act to reduce the number and type of plastics in use in the UK to incentivise production and use of packaging that can be easily recycled within the UK’s current recycling infrastructure. It is proposed that the actions identified could cut usage of plastic water bottles by 65%.

The second report, published in January 2018[7], recommends that the Government sets a target that all single use coffee cups should be recycled by 2023. If this target is not achieved, the Government should ban disposable coffee cups. Disposable coffee cups are made from paper and lined with plastic to make them waterproof. This plastic lining cannot be removed by most recycling facilities. 2.5 billion coffee cups are used and thrown away each year in the UK, but less than 1 in 400 – just 0.25% – are recycled.

The Prime Minister has launched a 25- year environment strategy, which includes a pledge to eliminate all ‘avoidable’ plastic waste, such as coffee cups and drinks bottles[8]. She has promised to extend the successful 5p levy on plastic bags to smaller shops and seek evidence on a possible charge on single-use plastic containers, such as takeaway boxes.

Other initiatives include a plan to urge supermarkets to introduce aisles without any plastic packaging, where all food is sold loose, along with new research funding for ‘plastics innovation’ and aid to help developing nations deal with their plastic waste.

Iceland has become the first major retailer to commit to eliminating plastic packaging for all its own brand products within five years to help end the ‘scourge’ of plastic pollution[9]. It plans to replace plastic with other packaging materials, including paper and pulp trays and paper bags, which would be recyclable through domestic waste collections or in-store recycling facilities. Iceland has already removed plastic disposable straws from its own label range and is introducing new food ranges in early 2018, which will use paper-based rather than plastic food trays.

References

4. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmenvaud/339/339...

5. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04tjbtx

6. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/22/make-supermarkets-an...

7. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmenvaud/657/657...

8. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/10/theresa-may-proposes...

9. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/iceland-plastic-free-pac...

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