Spearheaded by Sir David Attenborough's Blue Planet II, there is a growing realisation that the miracle material for modern life – plastic – may now be threatening our way of life. We have dedicated this edition of Waste Watch to the problem with plastic.  We have collated a number of articles and useful links together with legal and policy developments related to plastic and published over recent months.

Looking forwards, it will be interesting to see how UK Government will take action and influence this sector through the forthcoming Autumn budget. Some hints have already been provided in the recent HM Treasury report Tackling the plastics problem, including a potential plastic tax to curb the use of non-recyclable plastics.  

If you are being affected by these issues or would like further information about this edition or how Bevan Brittan is helping clients in the fields of waste and resource management, please contact Nadeem Arshad or Maxim Laithwaite. If you have been forwarded this update by a colleague and would like to receive it direct please email subscriptions@bevanbrittan.com.

The following themes are covered in this edition:

The problem with plastic

Plastic solutions

A global perspective

RWM Exhibition 2018

The national picture of plastic


The problem with plastic

Resource Futures: The Lifetime of Plastic: The plastic waste challenge is complex. There are thousands of plastic polymers, numerous additives and almost limitless applications and formats. And the list of potential solutions is almost endless, running from outright bans – through scaling up recycling or replacing everything with bioplastics – to harvesting the troublesome material from the oceans. (Jul 2018).

Guardian (online): The plastics crisis is more urgent than you know. Recycling bottles won’t fix it: A deposit scheme for bottles won’t make a scrap of difference. This stuff is in our food, our clothes – and in us. (24 Mar 2018).

Financial Times (online): The problem with plastic: From the stomachs of baby seabirds to the depths of the oceans — plastic pollution is everywhere. (24 Jan 2018)

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A global perspective

National Geographic: WE MADE PLASTIC. WE DEPEND ON IT. NOW WE’RE DROWNING IN IT: The miracle material has made modern life possible. But more than 40 percent of it is used just once, and it’s choking our waterways. This article provides a deep insight into the global problems of plastic and forms part of the National Geographic's ongoing Planet of Plastic campaign.

Climate Action: Henkel commit to 100% recyclable packaging by 2025: The German-based consumer brand, who manufacturer for brands such as Persil and Schwarzkopf, have introduced the idea to reduce the amount of plastic waste, a big problem that weighs heavy on the consumer industry. (5 Sep 2018)

ENDS Report: Explainer: What Brexit means for... waste: The impact on Brexit on waste policy is more complicated than in other areas, because the EU has recently gone through its own negotiations on the circular economy package. (30 Aug 2018)

Guardian (online): Interactive map reveals Scotland's coastal litter hotspots: An aerial survey of Scotland’s long and rocky coastline has revealed that large amounts of industrial rubbish have washed up on the shore. The litter, made up of plastic barrels, fishing nets, timbers, crates and industrial equipment, has collected across large areas of shoreline and rocky coves, often washed into highly inaccessible areas. (28 Aug 2018)

Climate Action: Real Madrid’s third kit made by Adidas from recycled plastic: Adidas and Parley for the Oceans have collaborated on the football team’s third kit made from recycled ocean plastic. (4 Sep 2018)

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The national picture of plastic

HM Treasury: Tackling the plastic problem: Earlier this year, the government ran a call for evidence to explore how changes to the tax system or charges could be used to reduce the amount of single-use plastics we waste. It looked broadly across the whole supply chain, from production and retail to consumption and disposal, in order to gain the best possible understanding of the whole landscape to determine the best course of action. The summary of responses can be found here. (Aug 2018)

ENDS Report: How a reformed packaging system could ease pressure on the Environment Agency: The government came under added pressure in August to reform the UK’s “broken” packaging recovery note (PRN) system after the National Audit Office (NAO) published a critical report (see below). (10 Aug 2018)

Guardian (online): Scrap 'smorgasbord' of plastics used in packaging, councils urge: Local authorities are calling on manufacturers to scrap the “smorgasbord” of plastics used to package foods from fruit and vegetables to yoghurt, margarine and microwave meals to help cut waste and increase recycling (4 Aug 2018)

Independent (online): Only one third of UK’s plastic food packaging is recyclable, study finds: New analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) indicates 525,000 tonnes of plastic pots, tubs and trays are carefully set aside by residents for their local recycling collection each year.

National Audit Office: The packaging recycling obligations: According to the NAO, the UK’s approach to calculating packaging recycling rates is not sufficiently robust, and government appears not to have faced up to underlying recycling issues. (Jul 2018) This story was covered by the ENDS Report online – click here for the article.

RECOUP: Download Centre: Here you can view and download the latest versions of Recyclability By Design and the UK Household Plastics Collection Survey as well as brochures and reports concerning plastics recycling.

WRAP: Reform to regulations relating to packaging: WRAP, INCPEN (Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment) and Defra’s Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP) facilitated a series of cross-sector discussions to inform how the UK could respond to and reduce the environmental impact of the way we use and dispose of plastic. These culminated with a summit in April 2018 which formulated a number of recommendations for the Secretary of State. The headline finding was that businesses across the UK packaging supply chain have said they are willing to pay more into a reformed producer responsibility system. (May 2018) This story was covered by the ENDS Report online – click here for the article.

Grant Thornton: Annual waste and resource management review: The industry has been increasingly focused on joining the circular economy through tapping into the manufacturing ecosystem, specifically in recycling. There is a growing recognition that the UK has to become more self-sufficient with regards to material management. China’s limit on plastic imports and the Brexit-driven uncertainty of the Refuse derived fuel (RDF) export market have created a situation where the UK would make an ideal material processing region, but the facilities aren’t up to the task. (May 2018)

Eunomia: UK Overestimates Plastic Recycling by a Third: This independent report examines whether the UK system is really as effective in promoting the recycling of plastic packaging as official figures suggest. Although some in the industry dispute the figures, the analysis strongly suggests that it is not. (Mar 2018) This story was covered by the ENDS Report online – click here for the article.

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Plastic solutions

Resource Futures: Eliminating avoidable plastic waste by 2042: a use-based approach to decision and policy making: The Resourcing the Future (RTF) partnership commissioned Resource Futures and Nextek to research and develop a framework to assist stakeholders across the plastics value chain and recycling sectors to move forward in a common direction for improving plastics resource efficiency. Ever increasing growth in the amount of plastics produced has outpaced society’s ability to manage them effectively at their end-of-life. In the UK, plastic packaging, which accounts for more than half of packaging waste, is recycled at 45% and non-packaging is thought to be recycled at a much lower rate. Click here for the report.

Climate Action: Aldi to phase out plastic packaging in a number of stores: Aldi stores across Plymouth are phasing out black plastic trays used for fresh food produce. (4 Sep 2018)

CIWM: Northern Ireland cuts 1 billion plastic bags from circulation: 1bn plastic bags have been cut from circulation in Northern Ireland since the introduction of its plastic carrier bag levy, according to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. (5 Sep 2018)

UKWIN: Call for an incineration tax: UKWIN has launched a new campaign calling for an incineration tax to support recycling and the ‘polluter pays’ principle. (24 Aug 2018) This story was covered by the ENDS Report online – click here for the article.

CIWM: SEPA to end exemptions for burning farm plastics in Scotland: The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has today (31 August) announced its next steps to stem the plastic tide by confirming it will end exemptions for burning most types of agricultural waste from 1 January 2019. (31 Aug 2018)

DEFRA: Plastic bag charge set to be rolled out to all retailers: The 5p plastic bag charge will be extended to all retailers and not just big businesses, subject to consultation later this year, to help fight the global scourge of plastic pollution, Prime Minister Theresa May has announced today. A consultation, to be launched later this year, will also explore the possibility of increasing the 5p minimum charge to encourage further behaviour change, potentially doubling it to at least 10p. (30 Aug 2018).

Guardian (online): Your old plastic bottle…reborn as a towel, bag or swimsuit: As technology finds innovative ways to recycle, waste products are being used in an unlikely range of goods in high street stores. (28 Jul 2018)

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RWM Exhibition 2018

RWM in partnership with CIWM: 12 & 13 Sep 2018: This year's RWM Exhibition is promoted as the UK's largest recycling and waste management exhibition conference. Held at the NEC in Birmingham, it is jammed packed full of seminars, exhibitors and representatives from across the relevant sectors.

The problem with plastic features across RWM 2018 with a host of related speakers, exhibitors and solutions and funding opportunities. We are particularly interested in the Innovation Award, Innovation Trail, Innovation City. In addition we have highlighted a number of plastic-related events taking place.

Wednesday 12 Sep

At 11:45 in the Packaging Theatre, M&S, Aquapak, Valpak, Recoup and BIA tackle How to design our world with plastic through a session showcasing initiatives taking place to tackle the problem of plastic, from design changes to alternative products to ways to manage the transition to a world where each element of plastic has been considered more closely.

Alternatively, at 11:45 in the Waste Matters Theatre, the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association, WasteAid, Valpak, and the Tearfund tackle the Global Responsibility for Post-Consumer Waste. Studies have highlighted the dominance of a small number of brands in the unmanaged plastic waste blocking drains and polluting the coast in developing countries. Whose responsibility is it, and how can we bring about urgent change?

Thursday 13 Sep

At 11:45, back in the Packaging Theatre, a panel including RWSP, Recoup, the Recycling Association, Resource Futures, and WRAP ask Are plastics are the problem? Whether we like it not, we have a global dependence on plastic for manufacturing, design and engineering. However, it is plastic packaging which is receiving the most attention. Packaging is essential to transporting products and food in a safe manner and to avoid damage and waste, but are we doing enough to ensure that packaging can be re-used or recycled?

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