landfill diversion

Coffey rejects Energy-from-Waste as plastics packaging solution

According to a recent article published by Let’s Recycle, Thérèse Coffey, Resource Minister, has claimed that it is better to bury plastic than burn it, whilst debating a 75,000-strong e-petition calling for a ban on non-recyclable packaging in the UK.

The petition claims that the UK fails to recycle ‘over 1.5 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste each year which ends up in landfill and waterways instead’.

Dr Coffey has said it is better to “bury” non-recyclable plastics than to incinerate them

Debating the petition in the House of Commons, members of parliament discussed whether more could be done to reduce non-recyclable plastics packaging outside of current targets and how it should be disposed of.

Defending packaging producers, Mark Pawsey, Conservative MP for Rugby and chairman of the All-Party Group for the Packaging Manufacturing Industry, said that it is not in the financial interest of manufacturers to “over-package” products and that modern packaging has helped minimise waste by keeping food fresh for longer.

He added:

It can of course be a source of energy. Household waste is used to generate the heat that enables the cement company based in my constituency to manufacture cement. That strikes me as a much better use of the calorific value of packaging than sending it to landfill.”

But responding to his assertion, Dr Coffey said:

“My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby referred to energy from waste. I caution against some of what he said. In environmental terms, it is generally better to bury plastic than to burn it. The opposite is true of food—it is better to burn it than bury it. We need to be careful about what incentives we push.”

In guidance published on the waste hierarchy in 2011, for example, Defra noted that sending plastics to landfill is ‘preferable to conventional energy recovery, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions’, but less preferable ‘in terms of all other environmental indicators’.

Plastics packaging can help minimise waste by keeping food fresh for longer, MP Mark Pawsey suggested

On biodegradable plastics Dr Coffey noted that a ‘UK bioeconomy strategy’ – proposed in the government’s Industrial Strategy launch yesterday – is in development, and could help research new types of biodegradable or compostable plastics which would degrade ‘without causing harm to the environment’.

And, Dr Coffey claimed businesses are already compelled to ensure packaging “does not exceed what is needed to ensure that products are safe, hygienic and acceptable” and continued that while packaging for some products such as Easter eggs is used for branding, a “considerable amount is functional”.

The Minister highlighted producers’ responsibility under the Packaging Waste Regulations, adding:

“In 2014, almost £20 million of revenue from the obligations paid by businesses was used specifically to help plastics recycling. Our targets for plastic packaging recycling are set to increase by 2020, which should provide a further incentive.”

References:

Petition: Ban all non-recyclable/non-compostable packaging in the UK

Let’s Recycle

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