EFRA committee report on Plastic waste

Following their Plastic Waste Inquiry, the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have published their report. REA were pleased to give evidence to the committee during the investigation and some of this has been referenced in the report.

The Committee has called for a ban on the export of all plastic waste from the UK by 2027 to reduce the country’s contribution to global plastic waste pollution. The ban should be part of a strategy to use less plastic, re-use more of it, and boost recycling, the committee said in the report. You can read it in full here:

The committee made several recommendations to the government. These included:

  • Calling for a ban on all exports of UK plastic waste by the end of 2027. The government should publish a roadmap on how to achieve this by March 2023.
  • Encouraging greater adherence to the ‘waste hierarchy’ which stipulates, first, reducing the volume of waste by eliminating unnecessary use or packaging, then encouraging re-use of it, before turning to recycling. The committee recommends that government targets are reformed to more closely follow this waste hierarchy – and aim for all plastic waste to be recycled, re-used or composted by 2042.
  • Expediting the rollout of ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’, which will see producers of plastic packaging pay fees on the packaging products they put on the market.  This should incentivise them to reduce the amount of packaging they produce and use more easily recyclable materials. The committee also recommended that the scheme is applied to more producers – covering all businesses that put more than 1 tonne of packaging on the market – by 2030.
  • Creating a taskforce to explore ways of encouraging greater uptake of ‘re-use and refill’ schemes – such as those where customers use their own containers to fill up with a product. These could include possible charges on single-use products, and initiatives aimed at encouraging public awareness and uptake of re-use and refill schemes.
  • Confirming its support for the Plastic Packaging Tax which is applied to products that contain less than 30% of plastic from recycled sources. This tax is expected to increase the demand for recycled plastic material – and so encourage investment in the recycling sector. This 30% level should vary according to the needs of different sectors and should be increased over time.
  • Using some of the income raised by the Extended Producer Responsibility and Plastic Packaging Tax schemes to invest in recycling infrastructure and to promising areas of future research. This should support the compostables plastics and chemical recycling industries, which currently appear to offer the best means of managing necessary but difficult to recycle plastics, such as plastic films.

Of particular interest to our Organics members may be the sections on Compostables in paragraph 90 to 92 of the report. The report states:

‘there appears to an emerging consensus that compostable material could serve a purpose in specific, targeted applications. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A Plastic Planet, the British Plastics Federation and the UCL Plastic Waste Innovation Hub all argued that compostable plastics are “likely to play an important but small role in the future of sustainable packaging,” particularly hard-to-recycle, but necessary plastic products contaminated by food waste. While there are question marks over the impact on long term soil health, various studies do appear to show that compostable packaging, produced to the right standard, can be effectively disposed of alongside food waste—an approach already followed in Italy, Ireland and Spain. Redirecting food waste remaining on plastics into composting could also close the loop on food waste, a major greenhouse gas emitter, and help to generate more fertiliser and improve soil health. Finally, as many consumers erroneously dispose of food-contaminated flexible plastics into their organic and food waste streams compostable solutions could help the organic recycling sector, which current spends around £7.26 million per year trying to remove and dispose of conventional plastics that have contaminated their waste streams.’

The report recommends:

‘By 2023, the Government should update its infrastructure roadmap to set out its plan for the future role of chemical recycling and composting within our plastics economy and waste management system. In particular, the Government must make a decision, based on the latest evidence about their impact on soil health, on the role of compostables, so that the organic recycling sector can adapt alongside the mandatory collection of food waste in 2024/25. If they are to be encouraged, the Government should adapt national targets to reflect their expected use. Product labelling must also be standardised to clearly indicate to consumers how they should dispose of compostable plastics and prevent them from contaminating other plastic waste streams. Labels should avoid unhelpful terms like ‘biodegradable’.’

It goes on to say…

‘The Government need to publish clear, evidence-based criteria for how Extended Producer Responsibility fees and the Plastic Packaging Tax will apply to new technologies, including compostable plastics and chemical recycling. We recommend the hypothecation of income raised from fees on compostable plastics and chemical recycling to research the most promising versions of these technologies or the development of appropriate recycling infrastructure.’