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Why the £270 Million from Plastic Packaging Tax Could Solve Long-Term Industry Challenges

The UK Government's recent announcement that it collected over £270 million from the Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT) in its first year sends a strong signal about the country's commitment to tackling plastic waste. However, as we delve deeper into the implications of this tax, it becomes apparent that while legislation is a crucial step, there's a need to address the challenges faced by businesses in sourcing recycled plastic.  The PPT, introduced in April 2022, levies a £200 per tonne charge on plastic packaging containing less than 30% recycled content. This initiative aims to incentivise the use of recycled plastic in packaging and to drive greater recycling and collection efforts. On the surface, this seems like a step in the right direction, but a closer look reveals the complexities and potential setbacks for industries reliant on plastic packaging. 

One of the key issues highlighted by the Plastic Recyclers Europe (PRE) is the scarcity of sorted plastic waste in Europe. The plastic recycling sector, worth over €7.7 billion in turnover, is grappling with a shortage of recyclable material. This scarcity poses a significant challenge for businesses attempting to meet the PPT requirements, especially when only 52% of recycled material comes from the UK, raising questions about the accountability for the remaining 48% brought into the country and the associated carbon emissions. 

As a result, many companies, including smaller ones, have no option but to transition to using 30% recycled content in their products. However, this solution creates its own set of problems. While the intention behind the PPT is commendable, the supply chain struggles to provide the required amount of recycled plastic. Businesses like Bakers Basco find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place – compelled to incorporate more recycled content into their products, yet unable to access sufficient quantities of recycled material. 

In the short-term, the impact might be manageable, but looking ahead, it could have far-reaching consequences for the plastics industry. Without a steady supply of recycled materials, manufacturers face delays in production, causing ripple effects throughout various sectors that rely on plastic packaging. 

Consider Bakers Basco, whose Omega bread basket is a prime example of a reusable transit packaging designed for a circular economy. However, even with the right intentions, the company faces challenges in securing the necessary 30% recycled plastic to keep its production lines running smoothly. This not only affects their operations but also reverberates across the baking industry and beyond. 

So, how can the £270 million collected from the PPT be strategically employed to overcome these challenges' One potential avenue lies in investing in the development of domestic plastic recycling infrastructure. By allocating funds to establish efficient recycling processes, the UK can reduce its reliance on external sources of recycled material. This move could help businesses meet PPT requirements and ensure a consistent supply of recycled plastic for production. 

Moreover, supporting research and innovation in plastic recycling technologies could catalyse the emergence of new solutions for the shortage of recycled materials. Collaborative efforts between the government, private sector, and research institutions could yield breakthroughs that alleviate the pressures caused by the scarcity of recyclable plastic. 

In conclusion, the Plastic Packaging Tax's first-year revenue underscores the UK's commitment to combatting plastic waste. However, for this initiative to truly succeed, it's imperative to address the challenges faced by businesses transitioning to recycled content, as well as to consider the accountability for the imported recycled material and its associated carbon emissions. 

Allocating a portion of the tax revenue to bolster domestic recycling infrastructure and innovation could pave the way for a more sustainable future. As we move forward, it's essential to remember that while legislation lays the foundation, strategic actions are what build a resilient and circular plastics industry.

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Publication date: 18/09/2023

European Plastic Product Manufacturer

This project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union [LIFE17 ENV/ES/000438] Life programme

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Last update: 2022-01-31