Plastic waste exports to ‘phase out’ by 2030

A group of politicians have expressed their support to phase out exports of packaging waste by the end of the next decade.

The news came in a report launched on 12 February from the Policy Connect think tank, which brings attention to a number of proposals highlighting the UK’s dependence on overseas markets for plastic packaging and methods to improve recycling for plastic products.

According to the document, two thirds of plastic packaging waste recycling is exported per annum; equating to 4.15 million tonnes in total for plastic recycling exports between 2010 and 2017.

The proposals have received support by 12 parliamentarians including Lord Deben, chair of the Committee on Climate Change and Labour MP Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee.

Commenting on the report, she said: “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.

Ms Creagh continued: “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.”

International exports

Albeit China has put a ban on specific grades of plastics, other countries including Malaysia, Turkey and Poland, are still thought to be dealing with large quantities of plastic waste exports from the UK.

“British consumers want to recycle more but our lack of UK reprocessing plants and circular policies are letting them down,” said Jonathan Shaw, chief executive of Policy Connect. “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.”

He added: “Among the headline measures outlined within the policy document is a target of net zero exports of recyclable plastic packaging by 2030 at the latest, a measure intended to ensure that plastic from products sold and used in the UK does not end up in the oceans and water courses.”

The Think Tanks also claimed that the UK could end the export of over four Wembley stadiums full each year to countries with lower recycling and environmental standards if it starts managing and handling more of its packaging waste internally. However, Policy Connect states that an investment will be required to triple the UK’s recycling capacity to allow for efficient processing of materials domestically.

In addition, the report draws on the Treasury to set targets for the percentage of recycled content in new products at different levels for different packaging formats, which will depend on the recycled materials availability. However, the Think Tank claims that this could be periodically revised as recycling activities start to increase.

Lord Deben, chair of the Committee on Climate Change and a former Environment Secretary said:

“Britain is a proud, responsible, ‘can-do’ nation which looks to the future. We welcome the government’s forthcoming consultation on its ambitious Resources and Waste Strategy. The right policy roadmap can turn our plastic waste problem into an economic opportunity for the UK to lead the world in waste-processing, recycled plastic, and waste-to-energy innovation and jobs."

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