By Lucy Frankel, Communications Manager, Vegware

The UK government wants to tackle ‘the scourge of plastic waste’. Back in March, the Treasury invited insights to help develop policy. A tidal wave of 162,000 responses flooded in, making it the largest response to a call for evidence in the Treasury’s history. Now they have published a 36-page summary of the responses, and hinted at how the government might take action using the Autumn budget:

  • Discourage plastic items which prove difficult to recycle
  • Reduce demand for commonly littered plastic items, including single-use coffee cups and takeaway boxes
  • Discourage incineration of waste that could be recycled
  • Encourage manufacturers to use more recycled plastic
  • Encourage more sustainable design of plastic items

Banning single-use plastics?

These items may be taxed or even banned:

  • black plastics
  • plastic coffee stirrers
  • plastic straws
  • plastic-stemmed cotton buds

Does your business really need these items? Can you find reusable alternatives?

Everyone is obsessed with straws, but the same issues apply to all foodservice disposables. Conventional disposables are made of a mix of materials – generally card and plastic. In use, they always meet food residues. In recycling terms, that is very low quality, and the result is generally incineration or landfill – either here in the UK or exported overseas. But if it’s all compostable instead, then food isn’t contamination, it’s a vital ingredient in the commercial composting.

This year at Vegware, we have seen a massive surge in demand for our plant-based compostable disposables. Compostable packaging needs to be in composting conditions to biodegrade, so isn’t a solution to littering, either in the sea or on land. But we have more and more regions around the UK where Vegware is accepted into trade composting collections. Most of Scotland, Bristol, Worcester and Gloucester, amongst other places. London is next on our hit list. Composting recycles catering waste here in our country, creating compost to feed British fields. Compost also improves soil structure, reducing the risk of floods.

New incineration tax?

Landfill already has a hefty tax per tonne, to make recycling more attractive. But huge quantities of unsorted waste go to incineration. The UK government is now considering adding a tax to incineration too. There would be no cheap way to dispose of unsorted waste.

Why does this affect your business? Anything that goes in your bin, first comes through your door as something your business procures. If businesses have to pay more to dispose of waste that can’t easily be recycled in practice, it will force a change to buying practices.

Exported UK plastics, in a river far from home?

For a long time, the UK has sent supposedly ‘recyclable’ waste far overseas. Out of sight, out of mind – we can tell ourselves we’re recycling. But in January 2018, China banned imported British waste as it isn’t good enough quality to recycle. We tried in a panic to send it to Malaysia and Vietnam, but they have refused too. We actually have no idea if our plastic waste is being recycled or dumped. And a report showed recently that 88-92 per cent of all plastic entering the oceans comes from ten rivers in Africa and Asia, with eight out of the ten rivers located in South and Southeast Asia. It’s time to make a change.

All this means that the UK now has to review its buying practices, and figure out what it can actually recycle (or compost) here.

Better design for real recycling

The UK exports the bulk of its plastic waste, but there are some plastics recycling facilities. Their job would be far easier with a lot less food contamination. Changes to packaging design would also make a big difference, like choosing fewer, better quality types of plastic, and not covering them in labels.

Local authorities reported recently that they can only recycle a third of plastic waste, and urged the government to “consider banning low-grade plastics, particularly those for single use”. The Treasury seems to be listening, and the budget should boost the plastics recycling sector.

So there are big announcements coming this autumn, in the budget, and the Resources and Waste Strategy. Now is the time to review what your business can reduce, reuse, and actually recycle (or compost) here in the UK.