Companies including supermarkets and other major manufacturers of plastic may be forced to pay more towards recycling of their products.
The plan could could form part of the government’s upcoming waste strategy, which is expected to be revealed this month, according to The Guardian.
The details are unconfirmed, but here are three reasons why a move to ask companies to pay more could be important.
1. Taxpayers currently pay more to deal with plastic waste than companies do
Large companies that create plastic waste already pay towards the collection and recycling of waste - reportedly at about £70m a year. But that is a relatively small amount of money compared to the £700m spent by local councils on sorting and collecting recycling and could increase to up to £1bn under the reported plans.
Lee Marshall, CEO of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, told HuffPost UK that companies in other EU countries pay a lot more already and that he believes companies should be contributing more.
“We think they should be,” he told HuffPost UK. “When you compare them, UK producers have the lowest cost of compliance in the EU.”
2. Coffee cups, crisp bags and toys often end up in landfill because they need specialist recycling treatment
It is not clear whether any extra funding would go towards improving recycling infrastructure - but currently what you can chuck in the recycling varies depending on where you live.
Whereas a clear plastic bottle is generally easy to recycle, but items made from more than one material - including crisp packets, plastic children’s toys, and coffee cups, require a specialist plant to be recycled.
Companies, such as coffee chains, have long argued that their packaging is ‘technically’ recyclable - but the reality is if you throw them in the recycling they’ll end up in landfill as the materials can only be separated at specialist facilities.
Marshall thinks that at present, consumers are paying twice - once for the cost of an item and then for the cost of dealing with packaging at the end of its life via local taxes.
Changes are already starting to take place. The likes of Costa, Starbucks and Pret have started to transport used cups to a specialist plant if consumers drop them in and Walkers will launch a similar scheme next month.
3. Encouraging more recycling could help us to have a more ‘circular’ economy
Three quarters of people want the products they use on a daily basis to be recyclable and reusable, according to a recent survey by the Cardiff University, the think tank Green Alliance and the Centre for Industrial Materials, Energy and Products.
Two thirds of those surveyed said they were frustrated by products that do not last, and 81% felt businesses should provide repair, maintenance or eco-friendly disposal of their products.
Improving recycling rates could give products a second life, reducing the need for more materials to be created.
Take a clear plastic bottle, for example. Recycled plastic can be added to virgin plastic and be “up-cycled” Dr Karl Williams, head of the centre for waste management at the University of Central Lancashire told HuffPost UK, or can be “down-cycled” to a lower quality product such as plastic decking or park benches.