Plastics: Packaging

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 16th July 2019.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Plastic food packaging serves important purposes such as protecting food, providing important storage information, extending the shelf life and decreasing food waste.

The Government is working with retailers and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to encourage their efforts to reduce waste and to explore the introduction of plastic-free supermarket initiatives in which fresh food is sold loose, giving consumers the choice. WRAP has published a technical report on the evidence for providing fresh produce loose and we are working with Morrisons to evaluate its current trial of selling produce loose, to assess the impact on food waste.

The WRAP Evidence Review: Plastic Packaging and Fresh Produce, pulled together evidence on a variety of fresh produce and summarised the current evidence available on whether it is suitable to be sold loose. Some items, for example cucumbers, have a significantly longer shelf life when shrink wrapped.

Our priority is to prevent or reduce waste in the first place. The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations already require all retailers to ensure that all their packaging does not exceed what is needed to make sure that the products are safe, hygienic and acceptable for both the packed product and for the consumer. As part of the Resources and Waste Strategy, we have committed to review the effectiveness of these Regulations by the end of next year.

We have also consulted on reforms to the way we manage packaging waste. The reforms to the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations will require producers to fund the full net-cost of managing the packaging they place on the market, once it becomes waste. This creates an incentive for companies to use less packaging and to ensure that their packaging can be recycled at end of life as it will reduce their costs in complying with the Regulations.

In our consultation we have set out options for how we want to enhance the incentive for producers to make better packaging design choices. The options are for a modulated fee system or a deposit fee system. These options provide a financial incentive for producers, in addition to the full-net cost fees, to move towards using more easily recycled packaging materials and formats.

In April last year, WRAP and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched their world leading UK Plastics Pact, with support from the Government, and all the major supermarkets have signed up to it. The Pact brings these organisations together with four key targets for 2025 that aim to reduce the amount of plastic waste generated, which includes actions to eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging items. Our proposed reforms will support supermarkets in achieving those targets.

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