Government to investigate tax on single-use plastics

Courtney Goldsmith
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Bottled Water Craze Outpaces Recycling Efforts
The government is calling for evidence on single-use plastics like takeaway cartons (Source: Getty)

Plastics are set to come under scrutiny as the chancellor today announced plans to investigate charges on single-use plastic items.

Philip Hammond said he would work with environment secretary Michael Gove to look into how the tax system and charges on single-use plastics could reduce waste.

"The UK led the world on climate change agreements and is a pioneer in protecting marine environments. Now I want us to become a world leader in tackling the scourge of plastic, littering our planet and our oceans," Hammond said.

"We can’t keep our promise to the next generation to build an economy fit for the future unless we ensure our planet has a future."

Read more: Borough Market is adding water fountains in a bid to go plastic-free

Environmental groups welcomed the news, citing evidence from the plastic carrier bag charge as proof of concept. Since the charge on plastic bags was introduced, there has been a more than 80 per cent drop in the number of bags being handed out by retailers, they said in a joint statement.

"The announcement in today’s Budget on tackling single-use plastic is a step forward, but must be ambitious in its scope and scale if the UK is to achieve its goal of leaving the environment in a better state than it inherited it," said Lyndsey Dodds, head of marine policy at WWF UK.

The promise to start a consultation was welcome, but does nothing to tackle the "rising tide of plastic" currently in the ocean, said Mary Creagh, MP and chair of the Environmental Audit Committee.

“My committee’s inquiry into disposable coffee cups and plastic bottles has heard that 15m bottles are landfilled, littered or incinerated every day, and that almost none of the 7m takeaway coffee cups we use are recycled," she said.

David Palmer-Jones, the boss of recycling firm Suez added:

This is a vital step towards achieving a more resource-efficient society and encouraging producers to take more responsibility.

Policy and taxation changes are welcome if they can help reduce the use of virgin materials in favour of more sustainable, recyclable products. Taxation changes to help the environment need to be part of a wider policy that marries the protection of our precious natural resources with a modern, sustainable, industrial strategy.

Richard Kirkman, chief technology and innovation officer at resources management firm Veolia, said clear labelling will be key in defining what is and is not a single-use plastic.

"For example, plastic bottles are not ‘single use’ if they’re recycled, whereas straws, takeaway food trays and plastic cutlery often cannot be used again," Kirkman said.

Read more: Tesco to scrap single-use carrier bags this month

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