Call for UK crackdown on plastic packaging to drive green economy

Whoever wins the UK general election must tighten regulations to slash the use of plastic packaging, match global standards and drive “green consumption”, the boss of one of the sector’s biggest manufacturers has urged.

Miles Roberts, the chief executive of the packaging firm DS Smith, made the call to the next government as the company celebrated surpassing its target to replace more than 1bn pieces of plastic 16 months early.

The FTSE 100 company works with dozens of international firms, including Coca-Cola and Tesco, to come up with alternatives to plastic tubs, pots and boxes.

DS Smith said clever design by its team of more than 700 experts working in partnership with major food, drink and cleaning product makers has led to the removal of 1.2bn pieces of plastic from its products, including 274m in the UK – which led the field.

Roberts said EU regulations had been vital in “really supporting the much greater use of material that’s recycled and recyclable”.

DS Smith’s Miles Roberts says EU regulations have been vital in ‘really supporting the much greater use of material that’s recycled and recyclable’. Photograph: DS Smith/PA

He said: “It is important to note that if our customers – the biggest [grocery] brands – are to remove plastics at scale and at pace, they need the right regulatory framework around them. What we need are stronger, harmonised, global, regulations that level the playing field, to help businesses move away from plastic..

“If a new government wants more of a green economy, then recyclability is part of that. It is not enough to have a few windmills in the sea, not just green energy, but green consumption and clearing up our messes.”

DS Smith has cut down plastic by helping companies switch to cardboard-based punnets for fruit and vegetables and replacing plastic wrap around multi-bottle drinks packs, for example

However Roberts said more change was needed or the UK would fall behind its neighbours, with recycling rates in England getting worse, not better.

He called for the revival of UK plans to charge packaging users for the reprocessing of waste and to simplify recycling by local authorities.

There are currently more than 100 different systems operated by councils but consistently separating out key reusable waste such as glass or card would mean reprocessers would have a more reliable source of materials and invest in new plants.

“I would like to see a clearer regulatory framework if we are going to deal with these challenges,” Roberts said. “Why not use systems that are already working in other countries?”

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Earlier this month the UK government confirmed plans to simplify and standardise recycling practices across England, echoing rules already in place in Scotland and Wales.

It has held back from forcing local authorities to separately collect glass, metal, plastic, paper and card – as desired by many recycling businesses – saying these can be collected in one “dry waste” box while food waste and garden waste must be collected separately. The rules will apply from 31 March next year but some authorities have been given leeway on certain aspects until as late as 2043.

That comes after Rishi Sunak bragged of having scrapped a proposal to “force you to have seven different bins in your home” even though such a move was not really on the cards.

The government has also promised UK-wide extended producer responsibility and deposit return schemes, under which producers will pay about £1.2bn in annual fees to help authorities collect and manage packaging waste. They will also have to indicate on a label if packaging is recyclable.

However, the EPR scheme is not due to start until next year, after being postponed a year. Bottle deposit return schemes have also been delayed across the UK until 2027.

The Guardian