What's happening with plastics and recycling nationally?

Plastic packaging
Central East London and South East North East North West South West West Midlands Yorkshire and Humber

This article was originally published on The GBN website.

The Carrier bag tax consultation that proposes to extend carrier bag charges to all retailers and increase the charge to 10p per carrier bag in England closed last week. Click here for details about the carrier bags charge consultation. On Monday 25 Feb we had the second reading of the Plastics Bill. This seeks to establish a Plastics Agency, similar to the Committee on Climate Change, to oversee the phasing out of single use plastics pollution by 2042. Click here for more details about the Plastics Bill.

Last week the Government announced four more consultations that you may want to take a closer look at. Click here for an overview.

Below, we have very short summaries of each consultation.

Recycled content of plastics packaging

  • HMRC are consulting on a proposed tax on any plastics packaging containing less than 30% recycled content.
  • The document does not give details of the level of the tax, nor whether it will be in proportion to the level of recycled content or applied to all plastics packaging with less than 30% recycled content.
  • The proposals are trying to align with rules used in the PRN system but not entirely.
  • HMRC are seeking views on whether post industrial waste should be included as ‘recycled’.

Click here for more details about the recycled contents of plastic packaging consultation.

Consistency in Recycling

  • DEFRA are consulting on proposals to require all Local Authorities to recycle a minimum core set of materials from all homes in the UK.
  • The consultation also includes proposals to ensure that around 2 million businesses, schools, councils etc that produce waste similar to those at home should be included.
  • They are asking whether we should standardise the colour of recycling bins across the UK to help reduce confusion.

Click here for more details about the consistency in recycling consultation.

Deposit Return System

  • DEFRA are consulting on proposals to introduce a bottle return system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, asking:
    • what materials should be included,
    • whether any particular sizes should be included / excluded and
    • whether throw-away cups should be included.
  • It includes a proposal for a central organisation that would administer the fees.
  • It should be noted that this is not like the bottle return schemes of my childhood but a collection for recycling scheme, not collection for reuse. Reuse would be the better environmental option.

Click here for more details about the deposit return system consultation.

Reforming the producer responsibility system

The current producer responsibility system in the UK is over twenty years old and covers the cost of subsidising the recycling of packaging waste. These proposals seek to introduce charges to cover the cost of collection and sorting packaging waste from the domestic waste stream, similar commercial waste and costs related to clearing litter (which is remarkably similar to the EU Circular Economy proposals).

 

PRN Reform

Proposed options for Producers

  • Four options for our future ‘governance’ model:
    • Option 1 – Enhancing the current system, and require schemes to contract with Local Authorities to recycle domestic waste packaging (which would continue to give us competition and price volatility, as at present).
    • Option 2 – Single ‘not for profit’ scheme, (which would not give us competition and withdraw the PRN mechanism in favour of fees for compliance).
    • Option 3 – Separate schemes for household and commercial waste, in addition to the current scheme with different targets for domestic and industrial waste. A central body would manage the interface with Local Authorities. (Similar to option 1 but with a more level playing field in terms of fees paid to Local Authorities and taking into account their geography).
    • Option 4 – A Government managed deposit based scheme where producers pay:
      • a fee for packaging that is not recyclable.
      • a deposit for packaging that is recyclable (and refunded when evidence of recycling is presented, or reduced amount returned if waste is not recycled back to the same product).
      • a contribution to cover the cost of domestic collection & sorting.
      • Frankly, this sounds too complicated!

Compliance Schemes

  • Transparency of compliance schemes – Schemes to be regulated more closely, including an operational plan showing medium-term plans, achievements and how revenue is spent. This may be by a body other than the current regulator.

Producers

  • Producers to cover the full cost of collection and sorting of domestic (and similar) waste packaging to be recovered. Estimated costs, based on models in other EU countries suggests costs are likely to be around £100 – £150/t.
  • Increasing fees to include the cost of monitoring compliance.
  • Producers would have to consider whether packaging is recyclable, whether it can be collected at an acceptable cost and whether there is a market for the output product.
  • The Government wants to promote recyclable materials with either:
    • modulated fees depending upon how easy it is to recycle a material or
    • a charge paid unless the producer can demonstrate that their packaging is recyclable and on a list of recyclable materials which identifies whether they ‘can be recycled’, ‘can be collected at reasonable cost’ and whether end markets exist.
  • The Government are considering:
    • A single point of compliance, possibly the convertor or pack/filler (brand owner), or importer.
    • Retaining shared responsibilities (as we have at present) and
      • Reduce or remove the compliance threshold. This could bring in 900,000 businesses whose registration fees are likely to be more than their recycling costs.
      • Making distributors responsible for the sellers share if their customer is not obligated.
      • Reducing the compliance threshold and have a flat fee for very small producers.
    • Online sellers to be responsible for the obligations of businesses not otherwise obligated.
    • A mandatory UK wide labelling scheme to help inform consumers about the recyclability of their packaging waste (which is currently optional), aligned to the list of materials recycled nationally and other recyclable materials.
    • An additional levy on businesses to fund consumer campaigns to promote recycling.
    • Additional fees / funds for regulators to enforce the regulations should be transparent.
  • The consultation includes new interim targets for packaging waste for 2021 & 2022 as well as ambitious target for recycling by 2025 and 2030 (But please note that the figures quoted in the consultation may include errors).
  • Considering whether there should be targets for closed-loop recycling (recycling packaging waste back into packaging products), (like the 30% recycled content in plastics consultation mentioned above) and specific targets for composites or difficult to recycle materials.

Local Authorities

  • Local Authorities to be required to collect a minimum range of packaging materials to make it more consistent across the UK (as noted in a separate consultation above).
  • There will be a payment mechanism (funded by producers) for:
    • Collecting the waste from households.
    • Recycling the waste (although I think the authors meant sorting).
    • Residual waste packaging that is not recycled.
  • An equivalent system for waste packaging collected from commercial premises with household-like waste profiles.
  • An additional levy on businesses to fund consumer campaigns to promote recycling.

Recyclers & Exporters

  • To strengthen accreditation arrangements, the Government is considering a number of changes including:
    • Introduction of mandatory accreditation of UK reprocessors and exporters that handle UK waste packaging, including any sites or traders which are not currently permitted.
    • Overseas inspection of reprocessing facilities paid for by exporters.
    • Giving the relevant regulator the power to audit exporters’ financial accounts to check that actual payments to reprocessors align with contracts and reported deductions for non-target materials.
    • A shift in the point of evidence (in order to determine whether waste has been recycled into equivalent materials) which may not be the same as the current ‘end of waste’.
    • Requirement to sort and clean packaging waste (to recognised standards) prior to domestic reprocessing or export.
  • Transparency.
    • The Government is, again, considering requiring reprocessors to provide detailed, audited, evidence about how PRN revenue is spent.
    • They are proposing that prices paid for PRNs be recorded through an independent third party and reported quarterly.
    • All recyclers / exporters of packaging waste to be accredited (as mentioned above).
    • All PRN eligible material to be reported monthly (c/f quarterly at present).
    • Evidence (PRNs) to be made available within certain time limits and unsold material be made available to the regulator (to prevent recyclers from hoarding PRNs).

 

Click here for more details about reforming the producer responsibility system.