Posted on 01 February 2013.
A London councillor’s idea for a further packaging levy has been slammed by the packaging industry
Clyde Loakes, a Labour councillor, deputy leader of the London borough of Waltham Forest and deputy chair Local Government Association’s (LGA) environment board, floated the idea earlier this month.
The LGA recently launched a ‘Local Waste Review’ which aims to review local waste management practices. The LGA is gathering evidence from councils and other key players in the waste management sector to identify challenges and innovations in waste management. It encompasses a broad range of subjects from the funding of waste services, infrastructure and regulation to how to maximise income.
Speaking to the recycling press, Loakes said that a packaging levy could help raise income for waste services. He said that the government needed to “get a grip on packaging” stating that “multinational companies are burdening local authorities with excess costs from excess packaging”.
The packaging industry has issued a strong rebuttal to this idea. BPF director general Peter Davis told PN: “Cllr Loakes is misguided when he talks of ‘excess costs from excess packaging’ for local authorities. Plastic packaging is kept to a minimum, to do the vital job of feeding 62m people three safe, healthy meals a day, from field to kitchen.
“He talks of leveraging funding from packaging producers, forgetting to mention that they already contribute substantial sums in packaging levies for recycling under the packaging regulations.”
CPI director general David Workman concurred with Davis. He said: “This is yet another attack on an easy target. If a levy on packaging – why not one on the total pack, including content? After all food waste is a far bigger problem than packaging waste.”
He said that local authorities should concentrate on collection systems that ensure “a good quality material emerges which they could then exploit to maximise value in the resource created”.
Last year, the Environmental Services Association also proposed an idea for a packaging levy to operate alongside the PRN system in its ‘Beyond landfill’ report
Matthew Farrow, ESA director of policy, told PN: “. This recommendation was originally conceived before Defra raised the packaging recycling targets and was designed as a potentially lower cost alternative to obligated businesses for incentivising the increased recycling and recovery of packaging. Defra’s preferred approach has been simply to raise the targets, but ESA thought that an alternative policy option might help to overcome some of the PRN system’s shortcomings, such as a lack of transparency and uncertainty of PRN revenues.
“ESA is in dialogue with government officials about its overall approach to green taxes and hopes that HM Treasury might consider using fiscal instruments as an efficient means to incentivise the movement of material up the waste hierarchy.”
British Glass head of container affairs Rebecca Cocking told PNthat it was questionable as to whether a packaging levy would make any real difference to the recycling of materials.
She said: “The UK already has the Packaging Regulations and the PRN system. Whilst the existing system may be seen by some as not being perfect it has assisted in increasing recycling rates. The concern by those in the supply chain is that they believe they do not benefit from the existing system when the reality is that they benefit indirectly but are not made aware. The concern with a levy is that it is not guaranteed that the monies from the tax would be distributed through the supply chain, and would put additional cost burden on industry.”
Speaking to PN, Robins Packaging Consultants consultant Terry Robins concurred and said that the idea was an interesting point and two aspects needed analysing.
He explained: “I’m all for recycling more and banning some items from landfill. I also agree that there should be a scientific and economic study as to recommendations and implementations of household waste management. What I’m not too sure of is the ‘levy’ on households and businesses.
“This smacks of the thin end of the wedge and I can almost guarantee will increase fly tipping throughout the countryside and unauthorised and air polluting bonfires everywhere. I believe that a waste levy may well become another council revenue that will merely go into the general pot rather than be used for waste management.
“Recycling needs to be increased, that is a given, as does energy-from-waste need to be increased and to that end what the local authorities should be doing is to look at the value of the waste they collect now. Wouldn’t it be better to follow examples of some private waste contractors who not only collect, sort and recycle but also make a profit.”
Call for evidence
Speaking about the Local Waste Review, Loakes told PN: “The review itself will focus on four key areas, from the big picture challenges and issues around how councils will continue to run waste services in an increasingly difficult financial climate, to the impact of new EU regulations on the waste sector and the need to invest in new infrastructure.
“We have already flagged this with the Packaging Federation and would be keen to have the engagement of packaging organisations via our call for evidence. The deadline for this is 15 February.
“Clearly waste is an issue that involves waste producers, reprocessors and those with collection and sorting responsibilities. We’re keen that to take all views into account in developing constructive solutions. It’s therefore important for us to be able to have an open discussion before we put forward the findings of the Local Waste Review later in the year.”
Packaging Federation chief executive Dick Searle confirmed to PNthat he was meeting with the LGA next week. He said that councils needed to look at getting value from resources in order to help the closed loop economy.