A cross-party group of MPs have urged the government to ban the export of all plastic waste within five years, and for all such unwanted materials to be recycled, reused or composted by 2042.
As one of the world’s largest plastic exporters, campaigners have long warned that much of the plastic officially described in Britain as “recycled” is actually sent to other countries.
According to the group of MPs, the UK creates more than 2.5 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste each year, and exports 60 per cent of it abroad. Based on previous Greenpeace estimates, this equates to roughly seven Olympic swimming pools of waste sent to other countries every day.
Most of it is sent to Turkey, where it is dumped and burned, causing “irreversible and shocking” impacts to the environment and human health, according to “alarming” accounts heard by MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
The committee is urging Rishi Sunak’s new government to reduce the UK’s outsized contribution to global plastic waste pollution by introducing an export ban in the next five years – advising ministers to publish a roadmap by March showing how they will do so.
In their report, the MPs also urged the government to aim for all plastic waste to be recycled, reused or composted by 2042 – pleading with ministers to create a more “circular economy” to reduce how much waste the UK produces.
In support of such efforts, they backed the existing Plastic Packaging Tax, which is applied to products containing less than 30 per cent plastic from recycled sources.
The MPs also called on the government to expedite the rollout of the “extended producer responsibility” scheme, which will see plastic packaging manufacturers pay fees on the products they put on the market, and to extend it to cover all businesses putting more than one tonne of packaging on the market by 2030.
Some of the income from these two schemes should be used to invest in recycling infrastructure and to support research in technologies which can tackle hard-to-recycle plastics, such as plastic films, the report said.
It also advised the creation of a taskforce to explore ways of encouraging greater uptake of “reuse and refill” schemes, such as those where customers use their own containers to fill up with a product, which could include possible charges on single-use products – as is already the case with plastic bags.
The government was also urged to step up the enforcement of existing rules aimed at preventing criminal gangs illegally exporting and dumping UK-produced waste, with MPs warning that waste crime had become a “low risk, high reward endeavour”.
“For far too long the UK has been reliant on exporting its waste overseas and making it someone else’s problem,” said the committee’s chair, Conservative MP Sir Robert Goodwill.