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Recycling director welcomes single-use plastics consultation outcome

Joseph Doherty, Managing Director of Re-Gen Waste in Newry and member of Defra’s Advisory Committee on Packaging, has welcomed the results of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Consultation for the reduction of single-use plastic beverage cups and food containers.

We were very pleased to participate in the consultation on three policy options which will assist DAERA. The options available were a voluntary scheme, levy and a ban. The consultation will go far in providing direction to promote the reduction of single-use plastic cups and food containers to increase recycling, improve reuse and reduce litter.

In my opinion, Plastic single-use cups, card single-use cups lined with plastic and takeaway food containers should be included in the scope of the proposed policy.

We don’t believe it is practicable to include pre-filled, plastic-lined food containers in the future policy. An individual at the shop or takeaway makes an informed decision to use a single-use plastic container or cup, whereas a person using pre-filled containers does not have the choice.

A ban on single-use plastics is not realistic given how embedded they are in many people’s lives. We’re not supportive of a levy due to economic impact on householders in particular, but also on the government and businesses.

I don’t support a ban on single-use plastics as they have become an integrated element in the food, hospitality and retail industries. They are lightweight and offer convenience to consumers, but we can be pushing their reduction, reuse and recycling capability. Our focus needs to be on reuse. However, a total ban is the bluntest instrument which will impact the packaging industry immensely. It is inevitable that it will damage the industry as there are no other solutions.

The UK Government’s recycling target is 65 per cent of all waste by 2035. R&D needs time and investment especially if the ban is introduced soon with significant impact on producers, retailers and consumers. Card, glass and metal are great materials, but they don’t offer the versatility and ‘long life’ that plastic offers. It is important that food remains in optimal condition so that it reaches the consumer without any decay or contamination.

The biggest issue is paper cups lined with plastic because the two materials can’t be separated in the recycling process. Alternatively, if the product can be separated it creates micro plastics that cannot be removed from the water in the paper-making process. We need a process whereby the plastic lining of paper cups can be removed and the plastic and paper can both be recycled.”

It is unlikely that the packaging industry will welcome additional costs involved but, at this time, a voluntary scheme or levy appears to be the only realistic option. Adding a levy at the point of sale may be significantly more effective than imposing a levy on producers who are developing the products. It also offers the greatest opportunity for recycling in the kerbside collection. Making recycling as easy as possible for householders is a priority.

I was interested to read that 39 per cent of the respondents said that a ban of single-use plastics was the preferred option to meet the goals of the legislation. One has to ask ‘Why?’ Is there another option? I believe there is a huge risk of unintended consequences.

In my opinion, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency is best placed to monitor the impact of the measures. To be effective and successful, there needs to be a communications plan to provide clear guidance on the measures, their scope, obligations of all involved and actions to be taken. It is essential there is transparency in respect of penalties for non-compliance which may involve fines. Trading Standards would be best placed to provide impartial enforcement of the system.

I also believe that the collection of levies should be distributed to encourage recycling, on litter campaigns, and for the regulation and enforcement of the measures.

I look forward to the publication on future policy direction that the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs will bring forward because of the consultation.

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