Parliamentary Committee calls for Urgent Action on Plastic Waste

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A UK-wide scheme to charge a refundable deposit when we buy drinks bottles and other containers has been urged by the Environmental Audit Committee, and welcomed by the Marine Conservation Society. The Committee also told MPs they must put a much greater onus on plastic producers to make only products that can be fully and easily recycled, and for tap water to be made more readily available.

Plastic drinks bottles, along with caps, lids and other plastic on-the-go drink and food waste items, consistently feature in the top ten of litter types strewn on UK beaches, and account for up to 20% of all rubbish found in Marine Conservation Society beach cleans and surveys.

Dr Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society, says:

“We wholeheartedly support the findings of the Committee. UK consumers use 13 billion plastic bottles each year. These are generally used just once and thrown away – a deposit return system, coupled with increasing access to free drinking water, and an effective system to discourage waste and encourage good packaging designs, would reduce this growing plastic tide.”

The Marine Conservation Society says that support for such a scheme is high. 73% of the British public, questioned in a YouGov poll for MCS, support the introduction of deposit return systems across the UK for single-use drinks bottles (plastic and glass) and cans. That’s almost 3 out of 4 people, with most support coming from those aged over 45 years.

In the Environmental Audit Committee report, ‘Plastic Bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide’, the Committee calls on the Government to:

  • Introduce a Deposit Return Scheme for plastic drinks bottles
  • Introduce a requirement for all public premises that serve food and drink to provide free drinking water
  • Increase the number of public water fountains
  • Make producers financially responsible for the plastic packaging they produce
  • Phase in a mandated 50% recycled plastic content in plastic bottles, to be achieved by 2023 at the latest.

The report says that the UK’s rate of recycling for plastic bottles has stalled for the past five years, while bottle consumption has risen, and that the UK urgently needs to stop bottles being littered or landfilled. The Committee is calling on the Government to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme for plastic drinks bottles with the aim of boosting the recycling rate to 90%.

The Marine Conservation Society says that such a system must be developed to operate across the United Kingdom in one harmonised system, with Scottish Government already committed to a timescale in implementing a deposit return system.

The Marine Conservation Society backs all of the recommendations in the report, and has long demanded attention be given to supply chain and product design so that items are designed to be repaired, reused and then, at end-of-life, easily recycled. MCS has also called for a minimum recycled content in plastic products, and a producer responsibility system where the producers and consumers pay the full costs of the collection and disposal of products.

At present, taxpayers bear the brunt – around 90% – of costs to deal with waste plastic. Manufacturers and suppliers only contribute 10% of the cost of disposal and recycling. Dr Laura Foster says, “We must see producers’ contribution to waste disposal represent the full cost of the disposal, and incentivise good design to ensure ease of recyclability”.

In a survey conducted by Yougov, commissioned by the Marine Conservation Society, over half of all respondents said they would be likely to make use of water refill stations at shopping centres (54%) and outdoor recreation spaces (53%), closely followed by train and bus stations (48%), supermarkets (47%), cafes/restaurants (46%) and service stations (43%) if they were available.

The Marine Conservation Society is calling for a wide programme of action on plastics for Government and industry, detailed at www.mcsuk.org/stop-the-plastic-tide.

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