There’s no doubt that Blue Planet II had a huge impact on our understanding of how unmanaged plastic waste effects the natural world. After a successful push for action on single-use plastics such as straws, stirrers and cotton buds, the focus has shifted to look at how we can address the wider issue of plastic waste. Globally, we produced 460 million tonnes of plastic and 22 million tonnes of this leaked into the environment as plastic waste in 2019. Still only 9% of our plastic waste is recycled. The Plastic Packaging Tax seeks to change our behaviours in the UK in the hope of increasing demand for recycled plastic and subsequent investment in capturing and processing plastic waste.

As part of its 25 year environmental strategy for England, the Government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has set out plans to reduce waste, improve consistency in waste collections and implement a system where buyers pay the full net cost of the management of waste in the UK. Their aims are;

  • To ensure all plastic packaging placed on the market is recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025
  • To eliminate food waste to landfill by 2030
  • To eliminate avoidable plastic waste over the lifetime of the 25 year environmental plan
  • To eliminate all avoidable waste by 2050

To support their aims, the UK Government announced the Plastic Packaging Tax in the 2021 budget for implementation from April 2022. The Plastic Packaging Tax is a standalone piece of UK legislation that places a tax on plastic packaging products that contain less than 30% recycled content. The tax applies to a broad range of products, both single-use and reusable and all plastic polymers, including bio-plastics, are in scope. The tax is designed to encourage increased recycled content in packaging.

What’s included?

Any majority plastic packaging that contains less than 30% recycled content will be taxable at £200 a tonne where the total volume is over 10 tonnes a year. This applies to anything used in the supply chain for the containment, protection, handling, delivery or presentation of goods, any single-use items used to carry a commodity or waste and anything that may be used as packaging by the end user (e.g. drinks cups, carrier bags, waste sacks). However, any non-consumable long term storage is exempt, such as first aid boxes, ear bud cases and tool boxes.

Who pays?

The tax is to be paid quarterly by UK-based manufacturers who perform the ‘last substantial modification’ and businesses who have items imported on their behalf. Businesses purchasing plastic packaging from a directly liable business will be jointly liable for any unpaid tax.

The ‘last substantial modification’ is considered to be the manufacturer that ‘finishes’ the packaging. Blowing preforms, cutting, labelling and sealing are not considered substantial modifications; therefore in the example of plastic bottles, the manufacturer of the preform is obligated rather than the bottle blower.

What is recycled content?

Recycled plastic comes in two forms, pre-consumer and post-consumer. Pre-consumer recycled plastic is any waste created as a consequence of the manufacturing process, such as offcuts, whereas post-consumer recycled plastic is the packaging that gets discarded when the product it contains is put to use. If these two types of plastic waste are collected, reprocessed and used in the manufacture of new packaging, this contributes recycled content to the plastic packaging.

In the case of the Plastic Packaging Tax, recycled content must have been reprocessed plastic but both pre and post-consumer plastic can be used (e.g. plastic offcuts created during manufacture would have to be reprocessed into pellets and put back into the start of the process to be counted towards recycled content). The use of recycled content has got to be evidenced with valid documentation for each packaging component (e.g. lid and bottle) and this evidence must state the weight of recycled plastic in each component compared to the total plastic used per component. 

How will it affect me when I buy my safety supplies?

The cost impact of the tax is designed to be built into the cost of a product to encourage changing behaviours. The government want to encourage increased use of recycled content in plastic packaging by applying a tax to packaging that does not use at least 30% recycled content.

This means that you may see a slight increase in prices where products are liable for the Plastic Packaging Tax. However, at Greenham we are evaluating the impact of this tax to help our customers plan and, where necessary, suggest suitable alternatives.

Greenham continue to proactively monitor broader policy and legislative developments, including the Plastic Packaging Tax and the proposed reforms to the Packaging Producer Responsibility Regulations. We are actively working with our suppliers to foster innovative and sustainable product and material alternatives. More widely, as a business, Bunzl are also actively engaging with government on behalf of our customers, across various sectors, in order to ensure that their views and needs are reflected in the design and implementation of policy.

All content is correct at the time of writing. This article should not be considered legal advice and is for informational purposes only, based on our interpretation of the Plastic Packaging Tax.