MPs call for immediate action on plastic packaging

MPs are calling for immediate action to introduce an extended producer responsibility (EPR) regime for packaging following news that Malaysia intends to send back 3,000 tonnes of contaminated waste to developed countries, including the UK.

The Bill on Extended Producer Responsibility (packaging) has been tabled by Anna McMorrin, MP for Cardiff North (see video below), and calls for packaging producers to be responsible for 100 per cent of the costs of collecting, transporting, recycling and responsibly disposing of the packaging products that they produce at their end of life.

MPs call for immediate action on plastic packagingBased on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, McMorrin’s proposal is largely in line with the government’s proposed definition of ‘full net cost’ in its consultation document on reforming the UK packaging producer responsibility system, which closed on 13 May.

McMorrin’s bill also proposes the creation of a single, not-for-profit Producer Responsibility Organisation to ‘oversee compliance of all packaging producers’, ‘report on that compliance’ and ‘issue certificates of producer responsibility to packaging producers that have met specified requirements’. These specified requirements could include designing packaging for recyclability, improving the labelling of packaging, participating in activities such as a deposit return scheme for beverage containers, or participating in public communications campaigns on packaging waste.

The bill has gained support from MPs including Chair of Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee Mary Creagh and former Conservative candidate for Mayor of London Zac Goldsmith, while Friends of the Earth and retailer Iceland Foods have also given their backing to the bill.

Commenting on the bill, McMorrin said: “The UK waste system is not fit for purpose. This piecemeal and disjointed process sees a few large companies benefit and masses of waste shipped overseas out of sight and dumped into our oceans. It is unacceptable that countries such as Malaysia are saddled with plastics waste produced here in Wales. We must quickly take action to fundamentally reform our failing waste system. In the battle against plastics waste, more drastic action must be taken to tackle the damage that non-degradable waste in doing to the environment.”

Exporting responsibility

The question of the UK’s plastic packaging producer has come under increased scrutiny in recent times, with export routes for plastic waste especially closing down since China’s decision to restrict imports of 24 grades of solid waste at the start of 2018. This is particularly troubling for the UK Packaging Recovery Note system, which obligates that packaging companies demonstrate that the packaging it places on the market has been recycled, as around half of the packaging counted as having been recycling through the system came through exports. The problem with this is that the packaging is counted as having been recycled once it is shipped, rather than when it is received by an appropriate facility in the receiving country, meaning much of the packaging exported for recycling may not actually be being recycled.

Last week, the Malaysian Environment Minister announced that 3,000 tonnes of contaminated waste would be sent back to developed countries, including the UK, after 60 containers were found to have been smuggled into illegal processing facilities in the country.

MPs have previously called to ban the export of plastic waste to developing countries – an Early Day Motion on the matter was signed by 35 MPs in February – while plastic waste has been added to the list of wastes subject to controls under the Basel Convention, an agreement that controls the international movement of hazardous wastes.

The Coalition of Support for the Bill on Extended Producer Responsibility (packaging) includes:

  • Mary Creagh MP
  • Zac Goldsmith MP
  • Kerry McCarthy MP
  • John McNally MP
  • Alex Sobel MP
  • Matt Western MP
  • Ben Lake MP
  • Liz Saville Roberts MP
  • Barry Sheerman MP

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