The industry already pays a ‘plastics tax’ - but it needs reform

Posted On: 
1st August 2018

The BPF launches the industry's vision for minimising marine litter and ensuring no plastic packaging reaches landfill by 2030, but argues that "a plastics tax wouldn’t just harm efforts to tackle plastic waste, it would cause significant damage to a great British industry".

"The plastics tax being lobbied for by pressure groups wouldn’t just harm efforts to tackle plastic waste, it would cause significant damage to a great British industry" - Philip Law, Director General, BPF
Credit: 
BPF

The plastics industry, government and wider society all want the same thing: to reduce plastic waste so we leave the environment in a better place for generations to come.

That’s why the British Plastics Federation (BPF) – representing 80% of the UK plastics industry – publicly welcomed the Government’s recent consultation on single-use plastic items.

As the experts on plastics, we are ready to help the Government get it right. Our recently published strategy for a circular economy sets ambitious targets – zero plastic packaging to landfill by 2030 – and outlines our ideas for how we, as an industry, can play our part. Designing plastic products for recyclability, investing in new recycling technologies and infrastructure, and helping harmonise collection schemes across the UK (we currently have over 300!) are all part of the mix.

These are the actions – coupled with a better culture of recycling in society – that will lead to a reduction of plastic waste.

And let’s be clear: it is plastic waste that is the problem, not plastic.

There are some pressure groups that are lobbying for the Government to simply place a tax on virgin polymer – the raw material for plastics.

In the context of Brexit uncertainties and public spending constraints, such a revenue raising measure may be a hot temptation. It may be a popular one too, given the public concern about plastic waste. But the fact is that it would make little positive difference to the fight against plastic waste.

In these discussions about raising revenue, one thing should not be forgotten: the plastics industry already pays a ‘plastics tax’.

Under the extended producer responsibility system, the plastics industry pays money to the Government via what is known as a Packaging Recovery Note (PRN). It’s a system that needs urgent reform. It is a key driver, for example, of the perverse incentive to export unsorted plastic waste to foreign markets, as has recently hit the headlines.

In reforming this tax, many might be surprised to hear that as an industry, we would be prepared to pay higher fees if it meant the money was reinvested to correct the decades of under-investment in our recycling infrastructure, and support plastic manufacturers to invest in the product innovations that have meant more reusable and recyclable products, and less throwaway items. We also want to see the system extended to include plastic items that are not packaging products but are products used in conjunction with food and drink consumed ‘on the go’, such as cutlery or straws.

Any tax on plastics should be a positive evolution of the current PRN system — one that will help all of us achieve our common goal of improving the environment for future generations.

In contrast, the plastics tax being lobbied for by pressure groups wouldn’t just harm efforts to tackle plastic waste, it would cause significant damage to a great British industry.

The plastics industry makes a significant contribution to the British economy - it employs more people than the pharmaceutical, glass, paper, nuclear and steel industries combined. Importantly, these are high-skilled jobs that are distributed right across the UK. Almost half of MPs will have a plastics manufacturer in their constituency. Policy on plastic should not risk these jobs, or put our young people off going into such a vibrant sector.

Neither should we risk putting British plastics manufacturers at a disadvantage to international competitors. Our industry is globally successful –  a third of everything the industry produces is exported, and plastic is one of the UK’s top 10 exports, worth over £8 billion a year.

It is a great British industrial success story, and we produce a product relied upon by so many of us in our daily lives. Let’s not forget all that plastics do for us – from keeping our food fresher for longer, to uses in medical equipment such as syringes that keep people alive in hospitals.

As an industry, we see a lot of the public attention on plastic as a good thing. This is an opportunity to educate people on recycling, and it’s an opportunity to talk about the world-leading efforts that a British industry is making to tackle the global problem of plastic waste.

It is my hope that PRN reform can support this war on plastic waste, rather than a war on plastic.