Technological watch

Plastics’ day in parliament

As the year wraps up, the BPF’s director-general Philip Law shares his comments from the recent plastics parliamentary reception.BPF’s programme of political contact reached a climax with its Parliamentary Reception held in the House of Commons on November 21st. This was attended by 25 MPs and Peers in a room crammed with BPF member firm representatives. For this kind of event, this was a large number. Government was represented by Kevin Hollinrake, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Minister for Enterprise and Markets. I reproduce below an edited version of my speech:

‘’I am delighted to speak to you on the ninetieth anniversary of the BPF and the 161st anniversary of the commercial introduction of plastics into the UK. The first plastics material –‘Parkesine’- was invented here in the UK and was manufactured just downstream from Westminster, in Hackney Wick. Today plastics underpin most innovations.

Currently the plastics industry has a £25 billion turnover and with 155,000 employees, it is the third largest manufacturing sector by employment in the UK. It is also among the top 10 exporting sectors.

The bulk of the industry is located in the ‘levelling-up regions’, and we have tremendous potential to help the UK as a source of high-quality employment, indeed offering international careers.

For those who are not thinking about plastics day in, day out here are some key points:

Crucially the UK plastics industry is key to the UK’s national security. Our products underpin defence, our electronic infrastructure, energy infrastructure, transport and healthcare. They play a major role in keeping the UK’s population fed with a fresh varied diet. The UK plastics industry is of strategic importance.

We are immensely grateful for the £4.5 billion investment in manufacturing, as announced late Friday, but we have to ask the question what exactly is the strategy from which it sprang and which companies are eligible to apply' Broad concepts were stated – ‘Advanced Manufacturing’ and ‘Green Industries’.  It is absolutely crucial that plastics are placed at the heart of any categorisation of ‘Advanced Manufacturing’ and ‘Green Industries’. 

But money can’t buy everything! To release the full potential of the plastics industry for this country we need some urgent changes in mindset, policy and legislation.

We ask you to seriously consider supporting six key requests from the UK plastics industry.

  • We need support for businesses to fill long-term skills vacancies and a further review of the effectiveness of the Apprenticeship Levy for manufacturers. We have a great many vacancies at shop floor and skilled levels. The knowledge in the industry resides with older age groups. This is a major brake on the development of the industry and its customers.
  • We urge you to work towards minimising formal or informal barriers to trade, particularly with the EU which remains the major trading partner.  Where it makes sense (and it doesn’t always make sense), we need regulatory alignment with the EU. We also need a renaissance of the Trade Show Support Programme which enabled UK exporters to secure considerable returns for a relatively modest outlay.
  • We also urge you to Increase the funding available for the deployment of energy efficient machinery and equipment. Technology is available which can help secure the industry in the face of any future energy supply issues, assist the path to ‘net zero carbon’ as well as boosting productivity. Alongside this we need early clarity on the future of Climate Change Agreements which have done so much to push energy to the forefront of the industry’s agenda.
  • In the Packaging arena we need greater stability in legislation. Intermittent green/red /stop/go signals just will not do.  We urge you to accelerate the waste collection and packaging reforms and I apologise if I appear to be using the coded language of a secret brotherhood, but I am talking about ‘Simpler Recycling’, the Deposit Return Scheme and Extended Producer Responsibility. And we need these measures to apply in equal measure and consistently across all parts of our still – United Kingdom.
  • To help us complete a fully circular economy in plastics we need you as legislators to approve the use of mass balance verification with a fuel exempt allocation method to permit the scale-up of chemical recycling in relation to the Plastics Packaging Tax.  If you don’t, then we will fall behind other countries in the technology stakes.  This will impact negatively not just on packaging waste management but also on dealing with waste from other markets such as construction.
  • Staying with the Plastics Packaging Tax, and this is the only tax I’m going to comment on, there is absolutely no excuse for not ploughing back the tax revenues into the plastics recycling infrastructure to expand recycling capacity and improve the sorting of waste streams.  As it, stands, without this investment, stripped bare, the Plastics Packaging Tax is nothing more than a smash and grab raid on the plastics industry. 
The Budget announced the following day brought many good things which have been well covered in the national press, but one key point has escaped widespread attention and that is the extension of Climate Change Agreements until March 31st 2033.BPF has one of the largest Climate Change Agreements signed between Government. and an industry sector."

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Publication date: 01/12/2023

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