Make supermarkets and drinks firms pay for plastic recycling, say MPs
Sandra Laville – Friday December 22 2017, The Guardian Supermarkets, retailers and drinks companies should be forced to pay significantly more towards the recycling of the plastic packaging they sell, an influential committee of MPs has said. Members of the environmental audit committee called for a societal change in the UK to reduce the 7.7bn plastic water bottles used each year, and embed a culture of carrying reusable containers which are refilled at public water fountains and restaurants, cafes, sports centres and fast food outlets. British consumers use 13bn plastic bottles a year, but only 7.5bn are recyled. MPs said the introduction of a plastic bottle deposit return scheme (DRS) was key to reducing plastic waste in the UK, as part of a series of measures to reduce littering and increase recycling rates. Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has called for evidence on a plastic bottle deposit scheme, and it is expected to be part of measures he announces in the new year. Major retailers have yet to support such a scheme, but Iceland and the Co-op recently announced their backing for a DRS. The report published on Friday underlines the need for government intervention to tackle plastic waste in the UK and calls for higher charges on companies to contribute to clearing up the waste they create. Mary Creagh, chair of the environmental audit committee, said: “Urgent action is needed to protect our environment from the devastating effects of marine plastic pollution, which if it continues to rise at current rates, will outweigh fish by 2050. [... ]We need action at individual, council, regional and national levels to turn back the plastic tide.” In the report MPs called for the “polluter pays” principle to be applied to companies to increase their contribution to recycling plastic waste. Companies in the UK that produce the waste […] pay one of the lowest contributions towards its recycling of any country in Europe under the Producer Responsibility Obligations. Instead taxpayers pay 90% of recycling costs. “We took account of the polluter pays principle; that those who produce pollution should bear the cost of managing it,” MPs said. “The Producer Responsibility Obligations do not make producers financially responsible for the packaging they are putting on the market. The committee is calling on the government to adopt a producer responsibility compliance fee structure that rewards design for recyclability and raises charges on packaging that is difficult to recycle.” MPs are also demanding the government makes it law that plastic bottles have to contain a minimum of 50% recycled plastic by 2023 at the latest. The UK’s recycling rate has plateaued in the last five years, and in the UK 15 million plastic bottles are littered, sent to landfill or incinerated every day. Deposit return schemes operate in several European countries, as well as parts of Australia and the US. MPs heard evidence that a deposit return scheme could help remove 700,000 plastic bottles from being littered each day, offering a financial incentive for the public to return them rather than throw them away. “Fewer than half of councils provide on street recycling bins,” the report said. “The UK needs an effective system to capture all plastic bottles not just those disposed of in household waste … we therefore recommend the government introduce a well designed DRS providing an economic incentive for consumers to recycle plastic bottles.” [..] The report said the money raised should be reinvested in plastic reprocessing facilities in the UK to reduce the amount of plastic exported each year – about 320,000 tonnes.