Officer Decisions

Chief Officer for Highways, Infrastructure Development and Waste - Meg Booth

Summary of Matter or Issue Requiring Decision:

Single use plastics – call for evidence

Decision Taken:

See below

 

Summary of Reason(s) for Decision Taken:

Single use plastics – call for evidence

Officer response from Devon County Council

1) How should the government define single use plastics, and what items should be included and excluded, and why?

In addition to the government’s definition (products made wholly or partly of plastic and are typically intended to be used just once and/or for a short period of time before being disposed of) we would add plastic pots, tubs, trays and bottles, and also items like crisp packets, cat food pouches and cotton buds to the items listed.
2) What are the most important problems associated with single use plastics, and why? Including which polymer types are particularly problematic and which items are particularly problematic?

• Plastic film that cannot be recycled and is light weight and therefore blows away as litter
• Black plastic which cannot be recognised by separation technology
• Polystyrene which is not recyclable and is lightweight and sometimes unnecessary
• Multi material e.g. tetrapacks where there is a layer of plastic which makes the item difficult to recycle
3) Are there more environmentally friendly alternatives, currently available or possible in the future, to these types of single-use plastic items or their manufacturing processes, and can they offer similar benefits? Should the government encourage biodegradability in plastics, and if so, how?

Bioplastics are mooted as a possible alternative although it is debateable how quickly they biodegrade. Some are also made from oil which makes them less sustainable. Biodegradability is somewhat useful in terms of litter. However, it is a question of once collected for composting can this material be successfully composted or digested. Our experience is that neither AD contractors nor IVC contractors want these products in their process. It would therefore go to Energy from Waste or landfill in Devon as part of the residual waste collection. If in landfill the bioplastic will contribute to methane production.
The public are being encouraged to think that ‘biodegradable is good’ but sadly there is currently no place for them in typical domestic waste recycling or composting collections. Householders would be further confused as to what to do with them & they are likely to end up as a contaminant.
All in all we would not propose bioplastics as a more environmentally friendly alternative as currently they cannot be composted within the existing AD or IVC processes.

4) Are there single-use plastic items that are deemed essential by their nature or application, which cannot be substituted or avoided?

Plastic has become the go-to material for food packaging and as such it is hard to imagine, for example, meat or cheese shelves at supermarkets wrapped in anything else. Appropriate packaging is required to keep food safe and fresher for longer with plastic being proven to be an effective means of doing this. If food is not packaged appropriately then it may be that food waste will increase as a result. At a local level though there are often alternatives such as paper bags or greaseproof paper.
Some collection authorities do not offer wheeled bins for collection and bin liners are therefore considered essential to present waste in. Similarly, some residents wish to use bags to line their food caddies.
5) No response

6) No response

7) No response

8) No response

9) No response

10) No response

11) No response

12) No response

13) What factors influence consumers’ choices related to single-use plastic items?
And how can the government encourage the re-use of these items?

• Generally, there is no alternative
• Food labelling is required and of interest to the public and is simply achieved on plastic packaging
• Convenience

Extended producer responsibility on single use plastic packaging would be likely to result in it becoming more expensive, thereby impacting on the consumer choice. It should therefore lead to more investment in developing reusable packaging which would become a cheaper and therefore more attractive alternative.
There are small shops that have no packaging such as http://thezerowasteshop.co.uk/ and
whether this could be extended to supermarkets is perhaps a question for them to consider but would take a step change to achieve.
14) What are the barriers to consumers choosing alternatives to single-use plastic items, and how responsive would consumers be to price changes?

• As above, there are often no alternatives offered
• Habit
• Lack of knowledge that they could or should consider alternatives
• The need for packaging that keeps their purchases protected
If the reasons for a higher charge are clearly spelled out and the public support the reasoning, it is possible that they would be amenable to small increases in cost of products.
15) In what way, and to what extent, do the decisions of producers and retailers influence consumer choice?

Anecdotally, if given viable alternatives consumers will vote with their feet. We believe that consumer groups and organisations such as WRAP would be better placed to answer this question.

16) In your opinion, how can the tax system or charges play a role in delivering better environmental outcomes at this stage? What interventions should be implemented, and why? What behavioural effect would these interventions have, both on this stage in the supply chain, and more broadly? What would be the impact on consumers? And are there specific items the government should be focussing on?

As mentioned at Q13 an extended producer responsibility system should be effective in delivering better environmental outcomes. This should make single use plastic more expensive thereby diverting producers (and consequently consumers) to focus on reusable and more environmentally friendly alternatives. Government could consider improving markets within the UK for recycled plastics by fiscal measures on the use of virgin plastics.

17) What are the barriers to the collection of single-use plastics and more environmentally friendly methods of waste treatment, including barriers to any existing technologies?

Barriers include:
• Volatile markets worsened recently by China
• Prior to the above there has never been a good market value to be achieved from mixed plastics.
• Although the recycling rate in Devon is 55.7% and the majority of districts in Devon collect mixed plastics for recycling, from a recent waste analysis the residual bins still contain 13% plastics by weight. The public, despite all the available information either don’t understand which plastics they can recycle or choose not to. This therefore results in contamination of recycling or recyclable plastic going into the residual bin.
• Limitations of technology to separate the vast range of mixed plastics for reprocessing, black plastic trays being an example

18) In your opinion, how can the tax system or charges play a role in delivering better environmental outcomes at this stage? What interventions should be implemented, and why? What behavioural effect would these interventions have, both on this stage in the supply chain, and more broadly? What would be the impact on Local Authorities and business?

Extended Producer Responsibility possibly including a tax or surcharge on the use of virgin plastics could deliver better environmental outcomes at this stage. This would help stimulate local UK markets for secondary plastics.

 

Summary of Alternatives or Options considered and rejected:

None

Details of any conflict of interest and dispensation granted to the Officer taking the decision or by any Member of the Council in delegating responsibility for any specific express delegation:

None

Contact for enquiries/further information: Annette Dentith 01392 383000
Decision Date: 16 May 2018

A copy of this decision and any supporting documentation considered by the Officer taking this decision may also be made available or inspection by the public at the Council’s Offices or posted upon payment of any copying and postage charges. Any member of the public wishing to take up either of these options is asked to please ring 01392 382888 or email: members.services@devon.gov.uk