UK to explore tax on single-use plastics

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Recycling Recyclable materials

The UK government will start exploring the potential of a tax on single-use plastics, it announced in yesterday’s Autumn Budget.

Chancellor Philip Hammond says he wants the UK to become a ‘world leader in tackling the scourge of plastic littering our planet and our oceans’, pledging to start investigating how the tax system and charges on single-use plastics can reduce waste.

Call for evidence

The government says such an initiative would build on the 2015 introduction of a 5p charge for plastic carrier bags, which has reduced the use of plastic bags by 80%.

Disposable plastics such as coffee cups and polystyrene takeaway boxes are highlighted in the Budget documents: although details on how a tax could work and what it could affect are scarce with the government planning to launch a call for evidence in 2018.

Takeaway coffee cups, for example, are considered single use because it is difficult to separate the cardboard and plastic lining and recycle them. 

The UK's Department for Environment, Food & Rural has already tasked an independent Voluntary and Economic Incentives Working Group to look at regulatory or voluntary measures that could reduce littering and/or improve the recycling of drinks containers. 

It is not clear whether a potential tax on single-use plastic would affect plastic bottles - that are recyclable but are not always recycled - or concentrate on plastics that cannot be recycled at all (such as takeaway food trays). 

Responding to the single-use plastic tax announcement, Gavin Partington, director general, at the British Soft Drinks Association, said: “The soft drinks sector has always taken recycling, littering and the environment very seriously.

"PET plastic bottles used within the sector are 100% recyclable and it is important that consumers are encouraged to dispose of recyclable materials responsibly.

“We acknowledge more needs to be done, and we want to work with Government and others to address issues within our current recycling infrastructure as a matter of priority.

“The existing pressures facing our sector over Brexit and an impending tax on soft drinks companies should not be under-estimated.”

Helen Dickinson, CEO, of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “The announcement of an investigation into how a tax on single use plastics can reduce waste is interesting.

“It begs a number of questions about how the scope of any taxes might work, the timeframe for introducing them, what Ministers hope to do with the receipts, and the impact on consumers and businesses.

“We look to Government to ensure this investigation takes a comprehensive approach to waste, recycling and the circular economy, of which single use plastics and drinks bottles are but one component.”

The BRC says it is also awaiting a 25-year environment plan from DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), calling for a broad, coherent approach.   

Alcohol duty

Meanwhile, a freeze on alcohol duty has been welcomed by industry associations.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) says the change in government policy will save the industry around £247m ($328m).

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association said: “We are pleased the Chancellor has found his festive spirit and listened to the call from the WSTA and its members and has frozen wine and spirit duty.

“He has recognised that rebalancing the UK’s excessive duty rates is a win/win for both the Treasury, the wine and spirit trade – not to mention consumers.”

British Beer and Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “The Chancellor’s decision to freeze beer duty and cancel his planned rise is an early Christmas present for beer drinkers and pub-goers worth £117m ($156m) this year and in subsequent years. It will secure over 3,000 jobs in pubs and the wider beer supply chain that would otherwise have been lost.”