Leading packaging data services provider Ecoveritas has called on the cross-party environment, food, and rural affairs (EFRA) committee to prioritise domestic recycling, stating that proposed bans on all plastic waste exports are an unnecessary distraction.
MPs on the EFRA committee have suggested the Government should ban exports of recyclable plastics by 2027 and introduce measures to reduce them before then.
The global trade in plastic waste has mirrored the growth in global plastic production, allowing high-income, high-consuming countries to avoid the direct social and environmental impacts of their plastic problem, which, in turn, has driven the ever-expanding production and consumption of virgin plastics.
“An outright ban is too simplistic and won’t work, we need an export safety valve,” said Andrew McCaffery, Global EPR Director at Ecoveritas. “Exports provide a flexible and environmentally advantageous treatment route, acting as a safety valve for the waste management industry and allowing the UK government time to develop future waste policy.
“You can’t help but feel we’re missing an opportunity to focus on catalysing domestic recycling. The UK remains heavily dependent on export markets to achieve its plastic recycling targets because we do not currently have the capacity to recycle all our plastic waste.
“We naturally advocate plastic waste being reprocessed in the UK wherever possible, but there is a significant journey which we must go on to achieve a global circular economy, and responsible export to fully compliant and legitimate recyclers has to remain a key part of the jigsaw in the short to medium term.”
The 2022 UK Plastic Packaging Sorting & Reprocessing Infrastructure report estimates recycling infrastructure must grow five times for household-like plastic packaging and nine times for food-grade plastic packaging. Only then would the UK have enough domestic capacity to recycle sufficient material to meet anticipated demand.
“Currently, we don’t have the capacity to recycle all our plastic waste,” added McCaffery. “Penalising legitimate exporters working under very high-quality rules and regulations would stymie our collective efforts to optimise the roll-out of the stalled deposit return scheme and extended producer responsibility reforms.
“We’re more than capable of doing local recycling and encouraging UK reprocessing without an export ban. You only have to look to European countries’ EPR schemes that are designed to give preferential treatment to local reprocessing. So, we need to ensure the new EPR scheme, and the Scheme Administrator, will own the material and have the power to offer preferential treatment to local or national reprocessors for material collected through the scheme.”
The EFRA committee says the UK exports around 60% of the more than 2.5 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste it creates.
Through the introduction of extended producer responsibility for packaging, the UK Government hopes to ensure producers cover the costs of collecting and managing plastic waste.
The Environment Act also facilitates the introduction of deposit return schemes, greater consistency in the recycling system, better control of the export of plastic waste and the introduction of charges for single-use items.