Political pledges point to a positive 2018

Written by: Robin Dyet | Published:
Robin Dyet from PLMR Scotland

News headlines of 2017 have been dominated by the increasingly heated debates over controversial political issues, from Brexit to President Trump’s provocative Twitter feed.

But it is not all doom and gloom. If we look beyond the controversy and acrimony then there have been some positive announcements for the waste and recycling sectors that could result in real progress in 2018.

Back in November, Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his Budget. While the media focussed on his changes to stamp duty and admission that economic growth had slowed, there was also a significant pledge on single-use plastics waste that many casual observers might have missed.

Noting the success of the 5p carrier bag charge, which is now in place across the UK and has seen an 80% reduction in the use of plastic bags over just two years, the Chancellor announced his intention to launch a public consultation on reducing other single-use plastics. He committed the government to launching a ‘call for evidence in 2018’ to seek views on how changes to the tax system or the introduction of charges could reduce plastics waste.

The move was widely, if cautiously, welcomed by environmental organisations, including the WWF and Greenpeace UK. The environmental lobby agreed that any step to reduce plastic waste and increase recycling was positive, but also pushed the government to be more ambitious in its plans and to take steps that would have a more immediate effect on the proliferation of plastics.

The negative impact of plastic waste has been high on the public agenda in recent weeks thanks in no small part to David Attenborough’s latest BBC series, Blue Planet II. The programme offered a brutal insight into the impact that plastics and waste are having on our environment, and attracted significant public attention to the benefits of recycling and waste reduction.

War on plastics

Government’s plans to tackle the issue of disposable plastics in products such as coffee cups, toothpaste tubes and takeaway boxes was therefore extremely well-timed, and Conservative MPs were quick to highlight the proposals on social media.

Since it entered into widespread use around 70 years ago, it is estimated that we have produced over 8.3 billion tonnes of virgin plastic, and only around 9% of this has been recycled. If the current trends continue then this could leave around 12 billion tonnes of plastic waste in landfills and our natural environment by 2050 – a terrifying prospect for everyone.

Last year more than 480 billion plastic drinks bottles were sold across the world, with fewer than half of these recycled. When you consider that it takes around 450 years for a plastic bottle to biodegrade, you start to understand the impact that plastic waste is having on the world around us, and the need to support and encourage systematic recycling.

As well as the plans to reduce the use of single-use plastic, the Budget also included a pledge to provide an additional £30m of funding for the Environment Agency to tackle waste crime and reduce the harm caused to the environment.

The industry as a whole has cautiously welcomed the Government’s increased prioritisation of tackling waste and its look at potential measures to support recycling. However, the absence of any tangible proposals to incentivise reuse or encourage behavioural change has been criticised, and there have been allegations that the aforementioned consultation, which has no defined timeline, is simply kicking the issue into the long grass.

Political promises

Meanwhile, the government’s long-awaited Industrial Strategy – published on 27 November – contained some slightly more concrete announcements for the waste and recycling sectors.

The Industrial Strategy white paper, which was 16 months in the making, was designed to increase the UK’s productivity and support economic growth across key areas. It specifically referenced increasing the ‘resource productivity of businesses’ through the ‘promotion of recycling’, and strengthening policies to support the goals of ‘zero avoidable waste and a doubling of resource productivity by 2050’.

Political support for recycling and waste reduction is welcome, as is the Strategy’s pledge that the Government will publish a new resources and waste strategy in 2018 to ‘support businesses in maximising the economic benefits from greater resource productivity’. And while all of the government measures announced in recent months should be treated with caution until they are fully delivered, there is a genuine feeling that this coming year could signal a sea change in our attitudes towards resource management.

So while the news may be dominated by political arguments over Brexit and Twitter spats between Trump and North Korea, take solace in the fact that both the public and politicians appear to be increasingly realising the importance that recycling and waste management will play in both our economic and environmental future.

Robin Dyet works for PLMR Scotland.


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