Old and new plans for “war on plastics” proclaimed / Ban on SUP cutlery and cups in England touted / Plastics tax still on the agenda
On paper at least, the European region is making strides toward stemming the tide of single-use plastics (SUP). The EU’s Single-Use Plastic Directive, passed in 2019, finally took effect on 3 July 2021 (see of 21.07.2021). Even if the continent as a whole is still a long way from being waste-free, the now 27-member bloc is making joint strides in that direction while the biggest country in the newly independent UK is still lacing up its boots. Recently, after years of verbal preparation, London declared a “war on plastics”, saying it planned to ban single-use plastic cutlery, plates, and polystyrene cups in England. As the legislation still has to clear parliament, the ban may not take effect until April 2023, about the same length of time it took the EU law to be added to the books.

Environmental campaigners have urged swifter action, pointing to figures showing that, on average, every resident of England uses 18 SUP plates and 37 SUP items of cutlery annually. England, the other three UK countries say, not without a degree of Schadenfreude, needs to catch up not only with the EU but also Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, which already have plans to ban SUP cutlery. Scotland additionally has begun work on a deposit and return scheme for plastic drink bottles. Northern Ireland has a similar scheme in the works, while the fourth country has committed to “creating a zero-waste Wales” by 2050 that targets the elimination of all single-use plastics.

While the UK government continues to insist that all four countries should share such a scheme, progress at the national level has been slow. The Environment Bill currently making its way through parliament mentions provisions announced earlier that would include extended producer responsibility, meaning that packaging manufacturers, for example, would have to bear the full cost of managing and recycling their waste.

In any case, the biggest UK country won’t have to start entirely from scratch. On 1 October 2020, England banned the sale of plastic straws and stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds, six months after the legislation was due to come into effect in April 2020 (see of 29.10.2020). Ministers blamed the pandemic, with its need for disposable plastics, for the delay. In conjunction with the announcement of England’s envisaged new moves, the UK government said it would at last introduce a promised new national tax of GBP 200/t (EUR 230/t) from April 2022 on plastics packaging with less than 30% recycled content.

This UK legislation has been on the drawing boards since 2018 (see of 31.10.2018). Then-chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said at the time the new tax would tackle the “scourge” of plastics waste and increase the use of recycled plastics in packaging by 40%. Under the concept presented three years ago, it would apply to plastics packaging manufactured in or imported into the UK. The chancellor proposed that businesses manufacturing or importing less than 10 t of plastics packaging in a 12-month period be exempted (see of 07.05.2020). A consultation on the legislation was extended several times. According to the original schedule, the tax was due to come into effect in April 2022, a deadline now considered rather unlikely.

Commenting on the repeated delays and the piecemeal implementation plans for the reduction of plastics waste, environmental NGO Friends of the Earth said, “The government needs to take an overall approach to say that what we are going to do is bring an end to all plastic pollution, and what we’re going to do is drastically reduce.” Another campaign group, City to Sea, told UK broadcaster BBC it welcomed the news about England, but this was “just the tip of the iceberg”. “We need the government to go much, much, much further, we are facing a plastics crisis and we need to turn off the tap.”
02.09.2021 [248469-0]
Published on 02.09.2021

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