The Plastics Tax – Who is meant to benefit?

chancellor of the exchequer

If we accept the fact that the Chancellor had to ‘do something’ to assuage the public outcry for action from the anti-plastics packaging lobby, we must ask ourselves if plastic packaging is to have 30% recycled content, where is the recyclate going to come from to meet the requirement? and

Who is going to benefit from the tax raised if they don’t.

According to the Environment Agency’s figures for plastic packaging waste generated in the UK in 2019, in total this was circa 2.2 million tonnes. Of this some 1.1 million tonnes was claimed to be recycled. However, no less than 693,000 tonnes of plastic waste was sent overseas to be ‘recycled’, thus leaving just 448,000 tonnes of film being recycled, in total, in the UK.

As a consequence, it can be seen that if we are to achieve 100% of plastic packaging with 30% recycled content over the next 2 years, the UK will need to increase its plastic recycling capacity by 245,000 tonnes (54%).

However, this is only part of the problem, as currently the UK imports over 1 million tonnes per year of film which is mostly polypropylene. Therefore the only way we can get UK plastic waste in total as a constituent of plastic film actually used in the UK is for us to export it to the countries who currently supply our polypropylene. These are currently the Middle East, Turkey, Europe etc. This simply isn’t going to happen as these countries will definitely not accept our recycled waste. Therefore the consequence of this legislation will be

1. Supermarkets will simply insist that alternative materials to plastic packaging are used


2.The plastic tax will have to be paid

Yet the Government’s own Food and Drink Rural Affairs Committee reported last year ‘Substituting alternative materials to plastic in food and drink packaging potentially increases carbon emissions thus increasing Global Warming.’

In 2019 the plastics industry paid £300 million tax for the collection and recycling of plastic packaging waste (PRNs). If the money raised from this new tax was fed back into the industry (as it should be) in order to build more plastic recycling infrastructure and assist local authorities with collection and sorting, it could prove beneficial to both the industry and the environment. Particularly if they legislated to reduce the level of plastic waste exports to make it worthwhile for the UK recycling companies to invest.

Unfortunately, it’s far more likely the Government will take the monies raised into general taxation. As a consequence, the major beneficiaries from the tax will probably be HMRC along with overseas film suppliers sending their waste into the UK as a constituent part of packaging film imports. The Germans recycle some 1.4 million tonnes of plastic waste each year simply due to better co-ordination of collection, separation and cleaning – why don’t we?

One final thought

A barrel of oil is 3% plastic 97% energy. This energy is mostly for petrol, diesel, aero fuel etc. All of which are ‘single use’ so why is there such paranoia surrounding allegedly ‘single use’ plastic? It is the only part of the barrel of oil apart from bitumen which isn’t single use.

Plastic isn’t a problem its on of mankind’s most successful ‘finds’. It’s the ignorance of those who discard it with impunity that’s the problem.

As always should you have any thoughts on any of the items raised, I would welcome your views and meanwhile, why not join me on LinkedIn for more regular contact.


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