Should Supermarkets and Manufacturers Pay for Plastic Recycling?

Plastic recycling is an ongoing environmental concern. In light of this, the UK Environmental and Audit Committee has released a new report that’s urged that supermarkets and manufacturers should all be contributing towards the recycling on product that they sell as part of the “polluter pays” principle.

Under current legislation, only 10% of plastic recycling is covered by those who produce and sell it, which is significantly lower than the rest of Europe and other developed countries. The committee believes that this should be increased to 50%, a figure that they believe should be achieved by no later than 2023.

The report has also called for public premises that serve food and drink to provide free drinking water in reusable containers. This would include restaurants, cafes, sports centres and fast food outlets. Consumers in the UK currently use around 13 billion plastic bottles every year, but despite concerns from environmental groups, only 7.5 billion are being recycled.

According to data, only a third of all plastic packaging in the UK is recycled each year, with the remainder being sent to landfill or being incinerated which is causing an estimated 233,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. This, combined with the huge number of plastic bottles being littered, is causing harm to countryside and wildlife, as well as ending up in the sea where they cause a third of plastic pollution.

Committee chair and author of the report Mary Creagh MP said “Obviously industry needs to be involved in the design of any scheme and then it has to be rolled out, but I think this is something we could see up and running in the next two to three years. And of course it’s a really important part of creating a sustainable economy and taking that plastic out of our rivers, off our streets and off our beaches.”

She added “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. Plastic bottles make up a third of all plastic pollution in the sea and are a growing litter problem on UK beaches. We need action at individual, council, regional and national levels to turn back the plastic tide.”

Countries across the EU have seen a considerable increase in the amount of plastic being recycled in the last decade. Between 2006 and 2014, an average increase of plastic recycling of 64% was seen, resulting in a 38% reduction of plastic ending up in landfill.  Deposit return schemes are currently in operation across several European countries, as well as in the US and Australia. MP’s argue a similar scheme would provide greater incentive for recycling and would help protect the environment.

According to Steve Morgan, technical manager at plastic recycling charity Recoup “The general message is that the amount of plastic packaging in landfill has decreased, it’s a huge success story of the last 20 years. But so much more can be done. There’s plenty of material that comes through the household that ends in the bin.”

Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK, said “A lot of single-use plastic items provide more cost than benefit, but currently the manufacturers only see the benefits. Once the manufacturers are given responsibility for the costs as well, the system should quickly become a lot more efficient. The reduction solutions recommended by the EAC, such as free drinking water from restaurants, cafes and public water fountains are all good ones, and it will be interesting to see how industry innovates once it is incentivised to do so.”

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