Gove sets out goals for a cross-sector plastic packaging plan

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has called for a cross-sector plan to tackle the challenges posed by plastic packaging at a ‘Plastics Roundtable’ with industry leaders last Friday (1 December).

In light of growing public concern over levels of plastic pollution, with some eight million tonnes entering the marine environment every year, Gove met with leaders from retailers, brands, manufacturers and representative organisations to outline the questions he wants to see addressed, including how to increase the recyclability of plastics and how to solve ‘on the go’ waste issues.

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Paul Vanston, CEO of the Industry Council for research on Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN), attended the meeting and described Gove as being “very engaged and passionate” about the problems posed by plastic packaging and “clearly committed” to ensuring the UK shows leadership both on the homefront and internationally to find solutions.

Expanding on the Environment Secretary’s apparent zeal for action, Vanston added: “He was clear he wished multiple sectors to come together to create a plan that tackles the variety of challenges at hand. Those sectors include the packaging supply chain, local government, resources & waste management, and reprocessors.”

In particular, Gove informed the assembled industry leaders that among the challenges he wanted to see addressed in a cross-sector plan were how to achieve greater recycling and recyclability of plastics, how to reduce the range of polymers used in plastics production to aid this, how to incentivise producers and consumers, how to address issues of ‘on the go’ waste and how to increase value chain understanding and cohesion.

A number of Gove’s concerns are currently being researched by the Rationalisation of Packaging Group set up as part of WRAP’s framework for consistent household recycling, for which the design of packaging was one of the core elements. Led by the Co-op Group’s Environment Manager Iain Ferguson, the group has been established to identify some of the main issues with packaging including polymer choice by producers and the potential use of biodegradable materials. A Brand, Retailer and Manufacturer Pledge is due to be launched soon as part of the group’s work..

Vanston also stated that Gove was keen for a plan that could inform the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) upcoming Resources and Waste Strategy. 

The industry discussions over a plan pegged for the next few weeks and months will be facilitated by WRAP.

Commenting on the results of the Roundtable, Vanston, who took over at the packaging trade body in May, said: “As INCPEN’s ambitions align closely with the outputs from the Roundtable meeting, I am delighted to do all I can to secure progress with colleagues across the sectors through this WRAP-facilitated process.”

The prospect of a united front across industry towards tackling the issues of plastic recycling and pollution will be welcomed by those who have previously criticised the often fragmented messages emerging from industry on the subject, as plastics recycling body RECOUP CEO Stuart Foster did back in June.

“There is more focus on plastic and sustainability than ever before, and we are looking to match that with action and progress,” said Foster. “I have growing concerns that politics and positioning (and the time and resources it absorbs) from a growing number of associations, companies and NGOs, is creating a wave of green rhetoric and media attention, but slowing delivery of effective programmes that would move us forward.” 

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