UK official warns against blanket tax on virgin polymer

British Plastics Federation (BPF) director general Philip Law has criticised the idea of a blanket tax on virgin polymer, arguing that it sends “the wrong message” about plastic to retailers, brands and the public.

Law made the remarks during a parliamentary reception called “future of plastics in a sustainable society”, held 10 Sept at the Houses of Parliament.

With business conditions uncertain due to Brexit, he argued that such a tax would discourage investment and damage the competitiveness of the UK’s third largest manufacturing sector – in terms of employment figures - at “precisely the wrong time”.

Law’s comments came amid some industry demand to tax virgin plastics as a means to address plastics pollution.

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), for instance, called for the tax during a Treasury consultation on ‘tackling the plastics problem’ which closed in May.

“Taxing virgin content would tend to promote the use of recycled content. Taxing the use of polymers (such as PVC or polystyrene) or polymer combinations (such as multi-material composites) that are particularly problematic for recycling would encourage a switch away from them to others,” said CIWM at the time.

But according to the BPF official taxing virgin polymer across the board risked raising the price of recycled material too, as there was currently not enough recycled plastic to fulfil a sudden influx of demand.

The UK, he warned, will be left relying on imported material.

Instead, Law suggested, the preferred alternative to the ‘plastics tax’ was reforming the existing Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) system. The note system includes documents providing evidence of using recycled content in new products and offers incentives for doing so.

Unlike the plastics tax, Law argued PRN reform would guarantee funds are invested in the UK’s waste collection and recycling infrastructure, and in new technologies such as chemical recycling.

“Reforming the PRN system would… ensure the money ends up where we need it: in an improved infrastructure, freed from its indefensible reliance on export, allowing us to manage and monitor our own waste,” Law added.

The BPF official closed his speech with a call to the government to look at the current, complicated debate about plastic waste objectively, and to acknowledge the positive contribution plastic makes to both society and the environment.

Also commenting at the event, parliamentary under-secretary for the department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) Therese Coffey reassured the industry that the government, in reviewing its Waste and Resources Strategy, was not intent on “trying to eliminate plastic”. 

Coffey mentioned that it was understood, within the government, how plastics “help the environment in many ways, such as reducing CO2 emissions and food waste.”

» Publication Date: 19/09/2018

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