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DEMAND RECYCLED: how Government can reduce virgin plastics and help tackle the pollution crisis.

 

I’m sure you’ve heard some of the shocking stats about the plastic pollution choking our oceans: 90% of seabirds have fragments of plastic in their stomach; one in two sea turtles have ingested plastic; an estimated 8 million tonnes are dumped in our oceans every single year.

Thanks to awareness raising campaigns such as Sky Ocean Rescue and programmes such as Blue Planet II, public concern about this issue has skyrocketed, and the issue is now among the top policy priorities of the UK Government. There is growing concern about the need to move away from our throwaway culture to a circular economy, where the use of raw materials is reduced and materials are reused or recycled.

But while changes to policy over the last 20 years have helped to increase the amount of materials that are drawn out of the waste stream for recycling, there has been far less emphasis on driving the demand for (or use of) this recycled material. In many instances, it is still often cheaper for industries to use virgin material (newly created plastic) instead of this recycled content.

Plastic bag floating in the sea, resembling a jellyfish swimming.Plastic bag floating in the sea, resembling a jellyfish swimming.

Increasing demand for recycled content

Our new report, Demand Recycled, looks at ways to change this. Launching in Parliament today, we’ve worked with Resource Association and Eunomia to highlight the potential for new policy options to make using recycled materials more attractive.

Through clear, practical recommendations – developed in consultation with leading industry bodies in the packaging sector – we want to drive this agenda forward, helping the UK to tackle the growing tide of plastic waste and capture the new growth opportunities that would be generated in a thriving waste and recycling sector. The issue needs to be treated with the urgency the plastic pollution crisis demands.

By examining a short-list of four types of policy measures to increase demand, our report recommends a system combining a fee on packaging and products with a refund of the fee made to those who can demonstrate their use of secondary materials. We suggest that improving the market for secondary materials would be a quick and effective step towards creating a circular economy.

Fig1: Design Option for a Fee-Rebate System

Seizing the moment

The report comes at a crucial time for both plastics and the wider waste management system.

In the November 2018 Budget, the UK Government announced it is consulting on a tax on plastic packaging produced or imported with less than 30% recycled content. This measure should help drive increased use of recycled plastic, however, further measures are likely needed to drive the change from a focus on meeting recycling targets (supply) to measures that create a buoyant demand for secondary materials.

With public demand at a high, and Government consultations announced on bans on plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers, a Resources and Waste Strategy, and taxes for plastic packaging, it’s a crucial time for debate.

We need bold and radical policy change to deliver the outcomes that society now desires, and to maximise the opportunities for the UK waste sector. We see this research and analysis as an important contribution to this debate.

Read the report

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