Government urged to tread carefully over potential single-use plastic tax

Philip Hammond Image credit: Sovastock /

THE UK Government’s decision to seek views on potentially taxing single-use plastic items in a bid to reduce waste has provoked a mixed response.

The move, which was revealed in chancellor Philip Hammond’s autumn budget, follows the success of the 5p carrier bag charge, which has dramatically reduced the use of plastic bags. The potential tax could affect the likes of coffee cups, toothpaste tubes and polystyrene takeaway boxes.

The British Plastics Federation acknowledged the presence of plastics in the ocean is an issue that is “rightly concerning the public” but said it urged the government to look at options that address the root cause rather than embracing “seemingly quick-win, populist strategies”.

The BPF believes a tax that increases consumer costs would not be a “viable solution” to today’s issues.

A BPF statement said, “It is important that any interventions from government are effective, evidence-based, maximise recycling and minimise the amount of this valuable and recyclable material being lost to the environment. At this point in time, the BPF does not feel that taxation is the best way of achieving this.

“The plastic carrier bag charge has reduced the use of these items but plastic bags and packaging products are not analogous and such comparisons are not helpful. Plastic packaging products cannot simply be substituted in the same way that plastic bags can without considerably increasing CO2 emissions due to increased food waste; an increase in the volume, bulk and weight of packaging; and an increase in the resources required to produce packaging from alternative materials. The plastic carrier bag charge has not reduced general littering either: it has increased since the introduction of the charge.”

The Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA) said it welcomed calls for evidence into the effects of taxes and charges on single use plastics. Executive director Martin Kersh said, “The FPA welcomes the Evidence Gathering proposal by the Treasury because it will give the industry the opportunity to prove that there is a far superior option on the table to taxation, which will deliver the objectives the government, public and the industry wants at a far lower cost to the consumer.

“Defra is aware our sector is actively working to produce a roadmap for the recovery and recycling of ‘on the go’ materials of which food and drink is only one part. The industry is recognising the need to reform its producer responsibility system via the Packaging Recovery Note scheme. This system has been proven to deliver great value in terms of recycling but now needs to be reformed to meet today’s marketplace and the challenging targets towards which we are all working.”

Michelle Carvell, COO at Lorax Compliance, said the Government must work closely with businesses to determine a uniform approach to the issue of single-use plastics. She said, “We welcome the government’s confirmation of plans to call for evidence for introducing taxes or other charges on single-use plastics. Following the successful introduction of key plastic waste reduction measures such as the plastic bag charge, the UK has a real opportunity to develop a strong reputation for best practice in tackling this international issue, provided that the approach taken is both strongly collaborative and broad in scope.

“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. Many of our clients have a presence in multiple markets worldwide, which brings with it an awareness of just how widely environmental obligations can differ from country to country; even in nations which are also part of a single entity such as the EU.”

Ibrahim Dogus, Chair of the British Takeaway Campaign, said he was “relieved” the chancellor stopped short of introducing a new packaging ax on single-use items, arguing that most takeaways are “responsible” when it comes to dealing with litter. He said, “With takeaways reliant on having a cost effective solution to keeping customers’ food hot, takeaway owners will be relieved that the Chancellor stopped short of introducing a new packaging tax on single use plastic. We look forward to working with the Government to explore workable alternative solutions which do not increase costs for small businesses or lead to higher prices for customers.”