UK Budget 2017 – Government to ‘Investigate Taxes on Single-Use Plastics’ – but is it enough?

This UK Government delivered its autumn budget last week. Throughout the week leading up to its announcement, there was speculation about what the Government may announce regarding the use of single-use plastics given their harmful impact on the environment.

Sadly, the result seems to be a rather paltry decision to “investigate how the tax system and charges on single-use plastic items can reduce waste.” While the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, also mentioned that he wants the UK “to become a world leader in tackling the scourge of plastic, littering our planet and oceans” we’ll admit to feeling a little deflated that as yet there’s no real plan in place to tackle plastic pollution.

Admittedly looking into taxing single-use plastics is a starting point, but is it really enough to discourage consumers from buying products and to encourage companies to source alternative materials? Granted the tax on plastic bags which has seen their consumption fall by 85% since the 5p charge was introduced has been a successful scheme however, if we are simply taxing an item without providing an alternative, people will still likely buy it and therefore it will still be disposed of and continue to cause environmental harm.

Ideally we’d like to see some other solutions, laid out in our Report on Ocean Plastics, these include:

1. Minimise single-use plastic packaging and find sustainable alternative materials such as card, paper or vegetable products that can be composted.
2. Make brand owners who package and sell products responsible for the environmentally sound management of the packaging at the end of its life.
3. Introduce incentives for the collection and recycling of plastic packaging in order to reduce the amount of waste produces and disposed e.g. drinks container deposit return schemes.
4. Improve the collection and recovery systems in high-leakage countries such as China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam or Sri Lanka, enabling them to appropriately manage the increasing amount of plastic waste they produce.
5. Increase the value of plastics in order to incentivise plastics collection in countries where informal systems of waste picking and recycling prevail.
6. Collect and reprocess single-use plastics instead of discarding them, avoiding disposal into landfill or aquatic environments and instead be directed into a reprocessing system, to be turned into long-lasting products.

More information can be found in our Report on Ocean Plastics which can be downloaded from the Artists Project Earth website www.apeuk.org.

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