From April 2022, the UK government will impose a tax on manufactures of plastics packaging. This tax will apply to plastic packaging where recycled plastic content is less that 30%.
The charge will be £200 per tonne. For context, one tonne of LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) will create approximately 120,000 plastic carrier bags. Therefore this tax will work out at an additional 0.17p per bag
The aim of the tax is to provide a clear economic incentive for businesses to use recycled plastic in the manufacture of plastic packaging, which will create greater demand for this material. In turn this will stimulate increased levels of recycling and collection of plastic waste, diverting it away from landfill or incineration. (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/introduction-of-plastic-packaging-tax-from-april-2022/introduction-of-plastic-packaging-tax-2021)
So far, so good. There is no doubting that we have be more productive over what we do with the plastic packaging produced and then discarded/burnt/exported/recycled. This is a worldwide phenomenon.
The plastics industry is fully aware of the incoming tax and public sentiment in light of stories of the problems dealing with the issue of the 15 minute plastic bag (average life span of "usefulness" of a plastic carrier bag) or films that cover your favourite microwave meal and as such are working with BP and others in recycling innovation technologies.
As packaging manufacturers rush to increase their recycled content of their plastic products to avoid the taxation / improve their sustainability / reduce their waste there is an emerging shortage of recycled plastic for some of them to use.
Some technologies for recycling plastic waste are in fact prohibitively expensive.
An example is Tesco are collecting around 1 tonne a day of soft plastics.
Of this, around 60% is mechanically recycled, 20% is recycled through pyrolysis and 20% is “unfortunately downcycled”.
Tesco said pyrolysis can cost around €1200 a tonne to achieve so is a very expensive option. (https://www.letsrecycle.com/news/film-takebacks-short-term-until-offered-at-kerbside/)
Pyrolysis is a method of creating oil from the plastic film at very high temperatures
Top 5 things we can all do to reduce our reliance on plastic packaging.
Reuse the bags we already own
Keep a handy foldable bag in your purse or pocket for those unexpected purchases
Buy your fruit and vegetables locally that are not wrapped in cling film (nearly enough clingfilm has been produced since the 1950s to wrap the planet)
Swap out your microwave meals (the film and black containers cannot currently be recycled) for batch cooking and freezing your own food. Check out https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/batch-cooking-recipes
Reuse containers you own and refill at Zero Waste stores or supermarkets where you can dictate how much you buy without the packaging. Some large supermarkets are trialling refill aisles but smaller independent stores can help too. Check out zerowastenear.me for your local shop.
If you have any thoughts on plastic packaging and solutions that I have not mentioned, please let us know and we will create a list of top ideas.