UK Supermarkets and Drink Companies will now Have to Pay for the Plastic Waste they Create

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The United Kingdom is a good pupil when it comes to fighting against global warming. The government is planning to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042 in a bid to protect the environment. After urging supermarkets to sell fruit and vegetables without plastic packaging, launching a refill plan to cut plastic bottles use, and banishing plastic straws from the market, it is now time to push the process a bit further.

“Urgent action is needed to protect our environment from the devastating effects of marine plastic pollution, which if it continues to rise at current rates, will outweigh fish by 2050” said Mary Creagh, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee.

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The Environmental Audit Committee is a select committee of the House of Commons in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Its main responsibility is to examine how government department’s policies and programmes will affect both the environment and the sustainable development.

In the UK, out of the 13 billion plastic bottles used per year, only 7.5 billion are recycled, meaning that half of the plastic used ends up in landfills and in the ecosystems. The committee has issued a report of the ‘polluter pays’, principle forcing retailers and drink firms to pay for the recycling of the plastic waste they create.

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The British economist Arthur C. Pigou created what he called the Pigouvian Tax, a tax on any market activity that generates negative externalities. This tax is intended to correct an inefficient market outcome and does so by being set equal to the social cost of the negative externalities.

Therefore, the report suggests to make companies contribute to plastic pollution to bear the costs of these externalities. Nowadays, UK companies that produce waste pay very little towards its recycling. According to the report, more specifically, they pay one of the lowest contributions in relation to other European countries (10%), the rest 90% of recycling costs is covered with taxpayers’ money.

As a result, producers are not financially responsible for the packaging they are putting on the market. Consequently, the committee wants to adopt a producer responsibility compliance fee structure that rewards design for recyclability and raises charges on packaging that is difficult to recycle. This radical change could divert at least 700,000 plastic bottles from the landfill!

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The recent Chinese ban on mixed plastic waste imports from UK makes the investment in such schemes urgent to avoid a huge increase in landfill, since the UK exports approximately 320,000 tonnes of plastic waste every year. China’s decision has indeed a dramatic effect on the countries who had previously been relying on Beijing to deal with their waste.

Experts claim that more than 90% of the plastic polluting the oceans around the world come from ten rivers, five of which are in China. Moreover, the report demands the UK government to establish a law making it illegal for plastic bottles not to contain at least 50 percent recycled plastic by 2023.

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