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How Practical is the Plastic Packaging Tax?

The Government has outlined plans to introduce a Plastic Packaging Tax from April 2022, which will apply to plastic packaging manufactured in, or imported into the UK that contains less than 30% recycled plastics. The objective of the government’s policy is to provide an economic incentive for businesses to use recycled material in the production of plastic packaging.

Technical rather than financial barriers

Whilst the tax is well-intentioned, the British Plastics Federation (BPF) has highlighted that it fails to address a number of current technical, rather than financial barriers that prevent the increase of recycled materials for certain applications. It could, therefore, have the unintended consequences of generating more packaging waste and undermine customer confidence that highly technical products are fit for their intended purpose.

My organisation and many within the plastics packaging industry already provide a high level of recycled content in our products. In fact, in many cases, responsibly produced plastic can have a high recycled content of up to 100%. Through our UK manufacturing and recycling division, CPR Manufacturing we help our customers in diverse industry sectors including uPVC profile extrusions, carpet and textiles, roofing and guttering, and disposable products, to meet their sustainability goals.

Recovery and recycling

We already work to ensure that the recycling and processing of polythene meet recognised industry and customer standards, including the use of EUCertPlast certified materials. This recognises the highest standards of material traceability, process control, and quality of the recycled content in the end-product. This enables us to replace virgin plastic with recycled materials through successful trials in a variety of industry sectors.

To support businesses, we also provide a Polythene Recovery Service to our customers. The recovered material is recycled at our CPR Manufacturing site, based in Derbyshire, and extruded into more film, increasing the recycled content of the factory’s output. Benefits for customers include a free collection of recyclable plastic packaging, reduction of waste disposal costs, and regular reporting of packaging returns. This service saves virgin materials in line with the principles of the circular economy and reducing landfills.

However, there are certain applications where the recycled content used in plastic packaging is restricted under product safety laws. This includes medical packaging and regulations relating to food and drink, cosmetics, personal care, and hygiene.

Studies have shown that switching to alternative materials other than plastic packaging would, in the majority of cases, lead to sustainability issues. These include higher energy and water use, increased C02 emissions in production and transport (due to the extra weight of the material), and, more often than not, an increase in food waste because other materials don’t perform as well as plastic.

One size does not fit all

The inclusion of recycled content affects the physical properties of the material. This is particularly the case with thin films, which are already incredibly resource-efficient, and where it is more challenging to incorporate recycled content without function and performance being compromised. This could result in increased material weight being required to maintain the same functional and technical properties, thereby potentially offsetting the environmental benefits of including recycled content.  The finished product must be fit for customer purposes, without, compromising safety, performance, and reliability.

As additional processes take place, including stretching, coating, lamination, and printing, this inhibits the ability to put this waste back into the extrusion process, due to the presence of inks, glues, coatings, and other materials. There is no means of clearly defining at which point the material is packaging and at which point it is production waste.

Knowledge of the product’s final use

Paying a tax on goods before they are sold also fails to recognise that many products are manufactured and extruded without a customer order, but instead are kept in stock for later use. Extrusion may take place some months before it is used to make packaging and the destination and application may be unknown at this point. To overcome this, the British Plastics Federation has proposed that the tax point should be moved from the point of extrusion to the point where the packaging is a finished item ready for sale.

As a member of the British Plastics Federation, we also support WRAP’s UK Plastics Pact a collaborative initiative to keep plastic in the economy and out of the natural environment. The aim is to eliminate all avoidable plastic packaging waste and make all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable, recycled, or compostable, by 2025.

All businesses in the supply chain should be working together to find solutions to protect our environment, combat climate change, and support circular economy principles, where we re-use, re-manufacture, repair, and recycle as much as possible.  A tax on plastic packaging, however well-intentioned, may not be the best thing for business or the environment.