(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Chancellor Philip Hammond is being urged to start taxing clothes made from polyester and nylon as he seeks to stop harmful plastics filling the world’s oceans.
The Treasury is aiming to announce a package of new taxes to deal with plastic waste in its budget statement in November, following a consultation that closed on Friday and attracted more than 100,000 responses, according to a spokeswoman for the department.
No other major economy has tried to deal with the tiny fragments of plastic which shed from clothing and wash up in oceans where they’re eaten by marine animals. These synthetic microfibers are used to coat everything from running gear to fleecy sweaters, giving them a shiny new look which often disappears once they’re washed, says Dustin Benton, policy director for Green Alliance, a think tank.
Galvanised by BBC’s Blue Planet, which showed how the ocean’s plastic soup is killing marine life, Prime Minister Theresa May’s government wants to eliminate plastic waste by 2042. Its policies already deal with about half the plastic that gets into the ocean, including microbead ban, a deposit return program for plastic bottles and a levy on single use carrier bags, but other areas like synthetic fibers, tyre dust and cigarettes remain unaccounted for.
Synthetic microfiber pollution is at least five times more prevalent than plastic microbeads and bags and could be reduced through an instrument similar to the Landfill Tax, according to the Green Alliance, a pressure group.
The 22-year-old tax on materials sent to the dump is arguably the U.K.’s most successful environmental policy, having helped cut waste buried on land by more than 65 percent. It has also boosted recycling by slowly increasing rates charged to waste companies.
“The Treasury wants to get in on this game because they understand that plastic is a big issue and they can see the electoral dynamics,” said Benton.
Along with Greenpeace, Green Alliance also called for taxation on virgin plastics to encourage a greater use of recycled materials. Greenpeace also called for the government to simply ban all plastic goods that it deems pointless, like stirrers and sachets. Remaining products such as single-use coffee cups, should be taxed, it said in its submission.
A rising tax on synthetic fibers over a five year period would encourage clothing manufacturers and retailers to use more sustainable materials and tighter weaves to reduce shedding, he says. Crucially, he doesn’t want to see a switch to cottons and wool, which have their own environmental issues and can be prohibitively expensive for many shoppers.
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