Plastics: Recycling

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 2nd June 2021.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what proportion of plastic packaging used in the UK has been recycled in the UK in each of the last five years; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what proportion of plastic packaging used in the UK has been exported in each of the last five years; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps his Department has taken to ensure that rubbish exported from the UK to be recycled is not dumped in unregulated and illegal sites; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps his Department has taken to reduce the amount of UK plastic waste that is exported for disposal; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps his Department has taken to disincentivise the production, sale and use of single-use plastics; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is illegal under retained EU law to export UK waste for disposal to countries outside the European Union and the European Free Trade Area. Individuals and businesses found to be exporting waste in contravention of the requirements of the UK legislation can face a two-year jail term and an unlimited fine. In addition, the export of UK waste for disposal to EU/ EFTA countries is generally prohibited, save for the strictly limited exceptions which are laid out in the UK Plan for Shipments of Waste. Proposed updates to the Plan were consulted upon earlier this year and the revised UK Plan will be published next month. The UK Government is committed to banning the export of plastic waste for recycling to countries that are not members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The Government will consult on this measure and work is underway to make this happen.

The UK environmental regulators take a pro-active, intelligence led approach to checking compliance with the legislation on waste shipments, targeting exports which pose a high risk and intervening to stop illegal exports taking place. In 2019-20 the Environment Agency (EA) stopped 1,889 containers at ports and intervened at waste loading sites, preventing the illegal export of 463 containers comprising 22,688 tonnes of waste.

In addition, the regulators undertake rigorous checks to ensure businesses accredited as exporters of packaging waste under the Packaging Waste Regulations comply with their conditions of accreditation, this includes verifying evidence that exported waste is recycled. Conditions of accreditation have been tightened to require an exporter to provide the EA with full details of the final overseas reprocessing sites receiving packaging waste it exports and to provide access to export documentation to prove that the material reached or was accepted by these overseas reprocessing sites. In 2020 the EA cancelled the accreditation of 4 exporters and suspended 7 accreditations Government is consulting currently on reforms to the packaging producer responsibility system which includes proposals for new requirements on those exporting packaging waste for recycling.

We are also taking action to reduce the volume of waste generated in the first place. The Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS) for England, published in December 2018, sets out the Government’s plans to reduce, reuse, and recycle more plastic than we do now. Our target is to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste throughout the life of the 25 Year Environment Plan, but for the most problematic plastics we are going faster - which is why we have committed to work towards all plastic packaging placed on the market being recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. We also committed to introducing electronic waste tracking to help us understand where waste is within the system. That will help to tackle illegal movements and misdescription of waste.

We have made significant progress, by introducing one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products and have significantly reduced the use of single-use carrier bags by the main supermarket retailers by 95% with our 5p charge. The charge increased to 10p and was extended to all businesses on 21 May 2021. In October 2020, we introduced measures to restrict the supply of plastic straws, plastic drink stirrers, and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. We will continue to review the latest evidence on problematic products and/ or materials to take a systematic approach to reducing the use of unnecessary single-use plastic products, including problematic packaging materials. Furthermore, from April 2022, plastic packaging that does not contain at least 30% recycled content will be subject to a tax of £200/tonne. Further details on the development of this tax can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/introduction-of-plastic-packaging-tax/plastic-packaging-tax#detailed-proposal.

Our Environment Bill will enable us to significantly change the way that we manage our waste and implement proposals from the Resources and Waste Strategy. The Bill includes powers to create extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes; introduce deposit return schemes (DRS); establish greater consistency in the recycling system; better control the export of plastic waste; and to set new charges for other single-use plastic items. Our approach is focused on encouraging greater uptake of reusable alternatives and increasing supply and demand for secondary materials to be recycled in the UK. We have set new targets for plastic packaging to be recycled (to 2023) and we are currently consulting on a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers, an Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme for packaging, and our proposals for greater consistency in household and business recycling.

Statistics on Plastic Packaging Data (tonnes)

Total placed on the market (PoM)

Total recycling

UK recycling

Export

% Exported

2019

2,472,317

1,141,316

447,078

690,631

61%

2018

2,361,000

1,034,410

384,848

649,562

63%

2017

2,260,000

1,044,363

358,467

685,896

66%

2016

2,260,000

1,015,226

330,731

684,495

67%

2015

2,260,000

891,141

327,591

563,550

63%

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