Biffa calls for ban on the export of waste plastics

UK waste management firm Biffa says there should be a ban on the export of waste plastics as part of a drive for all plastics to be recycled within the UK.

The move, it says, would retain the material as a resource, generate UK investment and jobs and avoid unintended environmental problems in other countries.

The “demonization” of all plastic is also resulting in unintended consequences for UK recycling, it says in its latest report, which have the potential to make the UK’s plastic problem worse.

The report, ‘Plastic surgery: managing the plastic waste problem’, highlights the need for clearer differentiation between ‘good plastics’ which are easily recyclable versus ‘bad plastics’ such as unnecessary single-use plastic and difficult to recycle plastics.

Biffa argues that short-term publicity exercises culminating in the rise of alternative materials including ‘compostable’ plastics, ‘bio-plastics’ and plastic pouches are giving consumers false confidence that they are choosing recyclable items, when these materials are generally more environmentally harmful and are contaminating high-quality recycling.

The time has come for decisive action to ensure we only use plastics in a sustainable manner, and to restore confidence in our waste and recycling systems

The Group is calling for simplification in plastic packaging materials with a focus on closed-loop recycling investment to ensure that where plastic packaging is necessary, it is developed to be as recyclable as possible into its original form or for other materials.

The report also recommends that simpler and clearer labelling be backed by improved measures to make recycling collections more consistent across the UK.

Michael Topham, Chief Executive of Biffa commented: “Everyone is rightly concerned about our dependence on plastics and on how we deal with our plastic waste. The time has come for decisive action to ensure we only use plastics in a sustainable manner, and to restore confidence in our waste and recycling systems. Biffa is today calling for a total ban on the export of unprocessed plastic waste.

“This will not only ensure our plastic waste is dealt with properly here in the UK but will also support investment and jobs, and provide vital raw materials for the UK circular economy. At the same time, we must phase out plastics that cannot be recycled, and deliver labelling and collection systems that are easy to understand and work for households and businesses.”

The report also calls for greater policy support for UK recycling, including mandatory business waste recycling collections, a tax on plastic packaging and an urgent review of the current producer responsibility (PRN) system which Biffa argues will all be vital long-term drivers for truly effective recycling reform.

Biffa’s Recommendations

  1. Stop exporting waste plastics. Global markets cannot always be relied on to deliver the environmental standards now demanded through heightened public concern and new political environmental ambition. We can, and should, aim to recycle all plastics within the UK.
  2. Phase out problem plastics. Single use plastics and difficult to recycle plastic composites such as black plastic food trays and compostable plastics have to go. Where plastic packaging is necessary, it should be as recyclable as possible to reduce the carbon impacts from virgin plastic production. There should also be higher compliance fees for producers of non-recyclable or difficult to recycle plastic packaging.
  3. Make recycling easier. If recycling is made difficult, it is less likely that people will do it. It needs to be made easier through a simplification of the array of plastics, clear unambiguous labelling and more consistent recycling collections.
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