House of Lords Library

Plastic Pollution and Recycling

Published Thursday, November 8, 2018

This House of Lords Library Briefing has been prepared in advance of the debate due to take place on 15 November 2018 in the House of Lords on the motion moved by Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Conservative), “that this House takes note of the threat of plastic to the environment and the case for improved recycling”.

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Plastic production has increased substantially over the past 50 years. If improperly managed, plastic waste can leak into the environment and pollute the oceans, posing a threat to marine wildlife and ocean ecosystems.

The UK has a number of policies in place to promote plastic recycling and limit environmental damage. The overarching framework of such policies is set by EU Directive 2008/98/EC on waste (Waste Framework Directive), which requires member states to have waste management policies in place and sets targets for recycling. In England, local authorities are responsible for household waste. In fulfilment of the EU Packaging and Waste Directive, the UK also places obligations on producers to ensure that a specified proportion of their plastic packaging is recycled. Packaging waste is also subject to separate EU targets; the UK is currently on course to meet the targets for 2025.  Current UK recycling policy has been criticised for focusing on the collection of materials but failing to develop the domestic reprocessing industry or pursue policies that aim to increase demand for recycled materials.

The Government is expected to publish a new Resource and Waste Strategy before the end of 2018, but several policies which are expected to be included have already been announced. These include:

  • A commitment to work towards eliminating avoidable waste by 2050 and all avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
  • Reform of the packaging producer responsibility scheme.
  • The introduction of a deposit return scheme.
  • A new tax on plastic packaging that does not contain at least 30 percent recycled content.

Lords Library notes LLN-2018-0116

Author: Jessica Sargeant

Topics: Environmental protection, Marine environment, Waste management

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