Packaging suppliers set to pay own costs as England looks to counter “throw-away” society


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19 Dec 2018 — Manufacturers will have to foot the bill for recycling or the disposal of their own waste as part of UK government’s Resources and Waste Strategy announced this week. Also contained in the plan – said to “overhaul” England’s waste system – were steps aimed at simplifying recycling labels for consumers, limiting levels of food waste, introducing a deposit return scheme for single-use bottles and clamping down on the illegal movements of waste within the recycling industry. The proposals will only effect England.

“We will cut our reliance on single-use plastics, end confusion over household recycling, tackle the problem of packaging by making polluters pay, and end the economic, environmental and moral scandal that is food waste,” says Michael Gove, Minister for the Department of the Environment, at Veolia’s recycling center in London, where the strategy was announced.

“Our strategy sets out how we will go further and faster, to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Together we can move away from being a ‘throw-away’ society, to one that looks at waste as a valuable resource,” he adds.

The critical points of the strategy include:

  • Businesses and manufacturers to pay the full cost of recycling or disposing of their packaging waste, up from just 10 percent now. The government will introduce a consistent set of recyclable material for collection, which will see industry pay higher fees if their products are harder to reuse, repair or recycle and will encourage sustainable design, subject to consultation.
  • Consistent recycling for every household to drive up recycling rates and supporting comprehensive and frequent collections. Consistent labeling will help consumers recycle efficiently and drive up rates.
  • Introduce a deposit-return scheme, subject to consultation, to increase the recycling of single-use drinks containers including bottles, cans and disposable cups filled at the point of sale.
  • Ensure weekly collections of food waste for every household – restoring weekly collections in some local authorities. This will be subject to consultation which will also consider free garden waste collections for households with gardens, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfill.
  • Mandatory food waste prevention targets for businesses and annual reporting on food surplus and waste.
  • Compulsory electronic tracking of waste to clamp-down on illegal movements of waste at home and abroad and tougher penalties for rogue crime operators.

The strategy builds on the Autumn Budget announcement that food and beverage companies may be taxed on plastic packaging that contains less than 30 percent recycled content. At the time, the tax was described as aiming to “transform the economics of sustainable packaging” and place the UK as “as a world leader” in tackling the scourge of plastic littering. The tax is said to come into force in April 2022, following a period of consultation on the detail and implementation timetable.   

The strategy also addresses a key concern expressed by the packaging industry regarding the quality of recyclate coming in. The quality has sharply declined, despite the rates of recycling increasing. This, according to Kenton Robbins, the Managing Director of PFF, is because consumers can be causing more trouble with their good intentions around recycling and are “throwing every type of plastic into the recycling bin.” Consumer confusion about what should and shouldn’t be recycled, as well as variations between councils, may become a whole lot clearer.Click to Enlarge 

 How has the industry responded?
The response to the news has been largely positive, with some recycling companies noting that the recycling and waste industry is finally receiving due attention.

“The government has listened to industry and these steps have the clear potential to dramatically change the way the sector operates to increase recycling and recovery rates,” says Richard Kirkman, Veolia’s Chief Technology and Innovation Officer.

“With consistent collections and advanced facilities like this at Southwark, more recyclable materials can be collected for reprocessing into new products. As a business we are ready to invest, to take advantage of new technology, build more infrastructure and work with brand owners and local authorities to harness resources on an industrial scale,” he explains.

“It’s the direction we have been hoping and waiting for and with the public and businesses playing their part the UK can build a sustainable future,” he concludes.

Speaking on the aim to reduce crime in the recycling industry, Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency (EA), says: “The plan embodies a solid commitment to tackling serious and organized waste crime, which drains the economy and blights communities.”

“Last year, the EA closed down over 800 illegal sites and carried out 93 successful prosecutions. The strategy sets to build on our successes, with additional resources, better innovation and improved partnerships across government and enforcement agencies,” he adds.

UK recycling has faced pressures recently, such as a potential investigation into allegations of illegal conduct as well as mounting costs following China’s restrictions on imports of mixed paper and plastics. At least 20 percent of UK councils have felt a direct impact from the, with some noting increased recycling costs of US$647,000 (£500,000) since the restrictions, a poll by the Local Government Association (LGA) revealed. Veolia and Unilever recently entered a collaboration focused on developing a global circular plastics economy.  

Further support came from the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN), whose CEO, Paul Vanston, notes: “The focus on whole-system changes is welcome including packaging reforms, consistency of councils’ household collections, and ways to increase investment in recycling infrastructure.” Click to Enlarge

The strategy builds on existing government work to tackle unnecessary waste including a ban on microbeads in personal care products, a 5p plastic bag charge which has taken over 15 billion single-use plastic bags out of circulation, a £15 million (US$18.9 million) pilot scheme for reducing food waste, and up to £10 million (US$12.6 million) to clear the worst abandoned waste sites that blight local communities.   

The government also announced £8 million (US$10.1 million) of funding for eight new research projects that will explore new and different ways of making, using and recycling plastics. This builds on a recent government funding of £60 million (US$76.4 million) in turning household food scraps into environmentally-friendly packaging for bags and cups.   

“Plastic offers a fantastic environmental solution for fresh food and medical devices, but we make the horrible assumption that this is a plastic problem. It’s us that are the problem,” Kenton Robbins tells PackagingInsights. 

With an overhaul of the waste system in England, the use of plastics may find a solid spot in the circular economy,  as well being boosted by further research and innovation, such as the widespread adoption of designing for recyclability.  

PackagingInsights has reached out to a number of packaging companies to hear their response to the strategy.

By Laxmi Haigh

This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst’s sister website, PackagingInsights.

To contact our editorial team please email us at

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