Government must work with councils and the packaging industry to realise its environmental goals
Chair of the APPG for the Packaging Manufacturing Industry, Mark Pawsey MP, writes in support of the work the packaging & plastics industry has already done to reduce litter and to increase recycling.
In one of her first acts after the House returned following the Christmas break the Prime Minister launched the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. The ambitious plan outlines how the government intends to create a “cleaner, greener Britain” and packaging – and plastics in particular – are at the very heart of it, with a pledge to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042.
People often overlook the importance of the UK packaging industry. The sector employs around 85,000 people in the UK, has sales in excess of £11bn per year and is the UK’s ninth largest exporting sector. The plastic packaging industry is an essential component of the sector and before the PM’s announcement there was already increasing discussion within the industry around the use of plastics in society and how we can improve recycling rates.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that packaging has been a big part of my life. Before entering Parliament in 2010 I spent 25 years running my own packaging business based in my constituency of Rugby. That interest has continued as an MP and I have chaired the APPG for the Packaging Manufacturing Industry since 2012.
People expect plastic packaging to do a number of jobs – to protect the products they purchase, to provide a vehicle for transportation and to keep food items fresh until they are ready to be used. Plastic offers a material that can be durable or biodegradable, and also helps to reduce resource use, and water and energy consumption. And although plastic packaging recycling rates are steadily increasing, there is no doubt that plastic waste is highly visible (despite it only representing only 2% of overall waste) and that more needs to be done.
In recent years the plastic packaging industry has been working hard to reduce plastic waste and improve recycling by prioritising a number of areas. It has reduced the amount of material and range of polymers used in each product and has encouraged greater recyclability and recycled content. It has made great efforts to incentivise the packaging supply chain to choose recyclable materials and has encouraged local authorities to implement consistent collections.
The Plastics Recycling Action Plan (PIRAP) is another way in which the industry is prioritising plastic recycling. This plan involves adopting best practice collecting methods, optimising sorting infrastructure and developing end markets for recycled plastics.
‘On the go’ packaging has been singled out as a problem in terms of both land and marine litter. The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) recently published its report on disposable coffee cups and I believe that an ‘on the go’ waste management infrastructure will achieve higher collection, less littering and more recycling. To fund this requires a reform of the UK Producer Responsibility (Packaging Recovery Note) mechanism, a development that has been endorsed by many of the UK’s leading retailers and brands and is referenced as a requirement in the EAC report.
Since entering Parliament I have supported the plastics industry in their work to understand and reduce litter and I recently worked with Hubbub, an environment and social charity, on a number of their initiatives. The #NeatStreets campaign saw a 26% reduction of litter and ‘For Fish’s Sake’, an initiative to change behaviour on litter around the Thames, has successfully reduced riverside litter by 32%.
All of these successful initiatives demonstrate that change is achievable and it is absolutely right that the PM is leading the charge to renew the vigour with which we seek to protect the environment and adapt to the challenges of our time.
The government’s intentions and ambitions are clear but to increase recycling rates we also need to see a consistent approach by local authorities to the collection of all single serve packaging used for on the go consumption of food and drink, and a zero-tolerance approach to litter. The doubling of the maximum litter fines to £150 will go a long way to achieving this and I truly believe that by working with the packaging industry and local authorities the government can both realise its environmental goals and ensure that we all continue to enjoy the benefits that plastic has to offer.
Mark Pawsey is Conservative MP for Rugby
This article first appeared in the House magazine alongside an article by the Director General of the British Plastics Federation which is available here.