U.K. Targets Waste Packaging With Tax on Non-Recyclable Plastics

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. is planning a tax on the import and manufacturing of non-recyclable plastic packaging in response to growing concern about waste materials polluting the environment.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond announced the tax in the 2018 Budget, saying that he is still consulting on the detail and timetable for the changes. It will apply to plastics that contain less than 30 percent recycled material. He also said that he is considering to add a levy to single-use plastic cups.

“We must become a world leader in tackling the scourge of plastic littering our planet and our oceans,” Hammond said in a statement to Parliament on Monday. Single-use plastic items “are convenient for consumers but deadly for oceans.”

While plastic is durable, lightweight and inexpensive, the material’s widespread use is harming the planet. Only about 14 percent of the world’s plastic is currently recycled, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The rest is piling up in landfills, choking waterways and hurting wildlife. It’s estimated that it will take up to 1,000 years for it to fully break down.

Prime Minister Theresa May said in January that she’s seeking to eliminate “avoidable” plastic waste by 2042, calling it “one of the great environmental scourges of our time.” Her government has already enacted several measures to try to reduce it, such as banning microbeads, a deposit return program for plastic bottles and 5-pence charge for plastic bags.

Hammond’s plan would leave many harmful materials unaccounted for, such as the tiny synthetic fibers from polyester and nylon clothing which shed from items in the thousands when they’re washed.

Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee announced an inquiry into the sustainability of the U.K.’s fashion industry over the summer and has written to the CEOs of the country’s 10 biggest clothing retailers to ask what steps they’re taking to reduce their environmental impact.

The Treasury has said previously it’s looking at four ways of taxing plastic. These include measures to curb demand for single-use plastics like coffee cups and takeaway boxes and encouraging further recycling as opposed to incineration.

The takeaway drinks industry’s efforts to reduce its use of single-use plastic will be monitored and Hammond will return to the issue if progress isn’t made, he said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.