The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and Environment Agency (DEFRA) have set out plans to increase household recycling, which their latest report shows has flatlined in England. In typical government fashion they’ve decided that, rather than simply fix the problem, charging manufacturers a packaging tax for the cost of disposing of or recycling packaging is the way to go.
The proposal is to ‘invoke the ‘polluter pays’ principle and extend producer responsibility for packaging, ensuring that producers pay the full costs of disposal for packaging they place on the market’. This all sound great, but it’s basically a packaging tax that manufacturers will pay. If you are a manufacturer then that’s you, if you are a reseller then your prices will go up. If you are a consumer then you’ll end up paying more. The government will pocket the money and although they say that they’ll distribute it to local councils to cover the cost of their recycling programs realistically that’s a load of tosh.
The problem isn’t taxing manufacturers for using packaging. The problem is the entire mindset of the nation and more importantly the inability to realistically recycle. Slapping a tax on non-recyclable packaging will be an incentive to use recyclable packaging. Most of the time it’ll still end up in land fill anyway as councils won’t collect it at the roadside, consumers won’t know how to recycle it and signs on packaging are inadequate.
Walkers Crisps recently hit the news with angry consumers posting crisp packets back to their free post address. The Royal Mail complained, so Walker’s solution was to set up a scheme for crisp packet recycling with Terracycle. Terracycle is little more than a PR stunt for companies to look good, we’ve written about them before. Yes a tiny proportion of packaging will be sent to Terracycle and be recycled and that’s good, but the nearest drop off point from the town I live in is a 20 minute car journey away. Driving a 40 mile round trip is hardly environmentally friendly just to get a crisp packet recycled and so, as most consumers do, I drop the packets in the waste that goes to groundfill.
There are two main problems that need solving. The first is that recyclable packaging can only be recycled if it’s patently obvious how it can be recycled. Cardboard is pretty obvious, but it’s almost impossible to discover how to recycle those void fill air pockets your probably receive. The answer is apparently that you can burn them! Packaging that’s going to end up with a consumer needs more that a badge saying ‘recyclable’. It needs clear instructions on how a consumer can recycle it and it needs to be a much more convenient solution than a 40 minute round trip in a car.
Yesterday I purchased a cabbage at a Sainsbury’s local. The bag it came in (why do cabbages need to be pre-bagged?) carried the message that I could recycle the bag at larger Sainsbury’s stores that have carrier bag recycling points. Even this is bizarre – why can’t I recycle it at the local store and even better why can’t I recycle it when the council collect my other recycling waste?
The second issue is one that the Government say they’ll address in the DEFRA report. More more consistent recycling schemes across the country and, in a move that will please many, a proposal that food waste would be collected weekly to avoid maggot infested bins and rats wandering the streets.
If the government really want to get serious on recycling there is a very simple solution. A directive telling all councils across the country exactly what type of waste they will collect from consumers houses and a recycling badge on every piece of packaging that councils will collect. Anything else that’s recyclable but not through council collections gets a different badge to differentiate it. How hard can it be?