Is the budget announcement of a possible single-use tax on plastics a good idea?

Written by: Jo Gallacher | Published:
Phillip Hammond made the announcement of a single-use tax during the Autumn budget

Following news that Chancellor Phillip Hammond will consider introducing a tax on some single-use plastics, RWW looked to industry experts to get their view.

Calling for unity

Michelle Carvel, COO at Lorax Compliance, emphasised the importance of government and businesses working together to create a policy and called for greater unity across the sector.

She said: “Differences in approach add both complexity and cost to environmental compliance for firms, and slow down this essential process of change.

“The need to cut down single-use plastics waste is not just a UK issue – plastic wastage is a global problem. A uniform approach is key to establishing a successful solution.”

Close but no cigar

Richard Kirkman, chief technology and innovation officer at Veolia UK and Ireland, said although the consultancy supports the initiative, more can be done to find new solutions to tackle single-use products.

He said: “As a nation, we need to recognise the importance of recycling plastic to help reduce the amount of waste going to landfill or ending up in our oceans. We believe there needs to be a clear distinction between what is and isn’t a single-use plastic.

“I’m a firm believer the solution to making all plastics easily recyclable lies in collaboration. At Veolia, we want to ensure sustainability throughout the entire packaging supply chain by working with designers, manufacturers and processors to find sustainable solutions, while raising awareness with consumers.”

Polluter pays principle needs review

Colin Church, chief executive of CIWM, agreed with the announcement, yet said it must be part of a wider review of how the UK applies its “polluter pays” principles.

He said: “We all want convenience but we must do more to protect the environment from the negative impact it can have as a result of irresponsible design, poor management at the point of disposal, and littering.”

Church argued that the business case for better resource efficiency and productivity has grown. He added: “Big brands do not make decisions lightly but we see the likes of Unilever setting a zero waste to landfill target across its global factory network and Coca-Cola’s European operations committing to collect 100% of packaging to ensure no litter ends up on the street or in the ocean. Others must now follow suit and take consumers with them.”

Quick-win strategies are ineffective

The British Plastics Federation (BPF) criticised the government for announcing “seemingly quick-win populist strategies” rather than addressing the root cause of the problem.

The organisation claimed that only 0.2% of ocean litter can be attributed to the UK and it is therefore hard to understand how taxing certain products within the UK will have any notable impact.

In a statement, it said: “When plastics unfortunately enter the marine environment from within the UK, it is typically due to the irresponsible disposal of plastic products through littering or dumping it in the sea. Placing a tax on one material without tackling the underlying behaviour will only change the composition of litter, not prevent it.”

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