Circular Economy

UK government mulls options to reduce mountain of waste after China ban

British businesses may be charged a fee to cover the cost of recycling plastic packaging they have created in a move aimed at reducing rubbish, a problem that grew when China stopped processing the world’s waste at the start of 2018.

Currently, taxpayers in the UK foot the bill to recycle plastic packaging, but the $1.27 billion annual price tag skyrocketed when the option to ship waste to China was taken off the table.

In the aftermath of the ban, stockpiles of waste plastic grew, and recycling companies began looking at other nations that were willing to take Britain’s waste. But now, under the government’s proposed new program, which comes into force in 2023, enterprises creating waste will be legally bound to pay for its disposal or reprocessing, with companies creating waste that is harder to recycle having to pay higher fees.

When the UK’s environment minister Michael Gove introduced the idea at a publicity event at a recycling centre in London in December 2018, he told journalists that Britain wanted to move away from being a “throwaway society” and become one that views waste as a valuable resource.

“We will cut our reliance on single-use plastics, end confusion over household recycling, tackle the problem of packaging by making polluters pay, and end the economic, environmental and moral scandal that is food waste,” Gove said.

The government plans to conduct a year of consultations on the proposals before creating new rules and laws that it hopes will encourage companies to think harder about the packaging they use and find environmentally-friendly alternatives.

The issue of plastic waste has been at the front and centre of many people’s minds in Britain since it was highlighted in the popular BBC documentary series The Blue Planet and following extensive coverage of China’s ban on waste imports. To make the problem even more pressing, government statistics show recycling rates in England have flatlined in the past five years.

The government’s response not only aims to take on companies that produce excessive packaging, but also calls for weekly collections from all homes of food waste, clear labelling on products to help people appropriately recycle materials, and the use of electronic tagging to help identify and block illegal shipments of waste overseas.

The government also wants to introduce tougher penalties for rogue operators who ship waste to unapproved handlers, as well as returnable deposits on bottles, cans and disposable cups.