Written Evidence submitted by Peter Calliafas (PW0001)
- Background Context:
The growth in global plastics (million metric tonnes) has been significant since 1950. In 1950, it was 1.5, and in 2020, it was 367 (up from 288 in 2012). This is a helpful website link for the purposes of this background context:
The key question arising from this is this: what have all the various international agreements, policy initiatives (prevention, reuse, recycling) actually achieved in curbing the growth in global plastics?
- The failures in recycling:
- The amount of plastic waste collected for recycling for example; and from the kerbside, represents a fraction of the annual global plastic production as set out above. In effect, it represents a very small tip of the overall plastics iceberg.
- A relevant case study to illustrate the point above: “The UK uses 13 billion plastic bottles every year. Only 7.5 billion are recycled. The remaining 5.5 billion are landfilled, littered, or incinerated. Eunomia Research and Consulting told us that landfill and incineration of plastic bottles produces approximately 233,000 tonnes of CO2e emissions a year. Littering of plastic bottles spoils our streets and threatens our wildlife. Clearing litter and enforcing the law cost local authorities £778 million in 2015/16. Plastic bottles make up a third of all plastic pollution in the sea. If marine plastic pollution continues to rise at its current rate, the amount of plastic in the sea will outweigh fish by 2050. Plastic bottles are an avoidable source of marine plastic pollution, as well as an engaging and tangible issue for the general public, sparking consideration of other types of marine plastic pollution” Source: House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee Plastic bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide First Report of Session 2017–19
- The recycling rates quoted, are for items collected for recycling from the kerbside by local authorities. It does not include items from business for example. This is not recycling. So what are we actually measuring in reality?
- Plastic waste processed through a Plastics Recycling Facility (PRF), and in tonnage terms, represents what fraction of the overall tonnage placed on the market originally? The data sets for this are not published. So how can we compare i) items collected for recycling, and ii) items processed through the PRF; in order to determine the changes in the tonnages between the two, and arising from process losses / contamination issues for example?
- What is the demand side, and how much recycled tonnage is actually used by manufacturers and/or producers of virgin plastic? This is the key measurement point, as this is the point at which items collected/processed previously are actually recycled? There are no data sets for this. Without this data, there is a risk that ‘greenwashing’ will arise.
- Plastic Waste Offsetting:
- If we consider one tonne of virgin plastic placed on the market originally, and in principle, one tonne of the same plastic collected/processed for recycling; which is then used to substitute the virgin equivalent in either the manufacture or production of new plastic: is this not just ‘plastic offsetting’ in name only, given that it has not curbed the global growth in plastics?
- If we take COP26 into consideration, the need to reduce carbon emissions, the agreed cap by way of an example; what is the ‘net zero’ equivalent for plastics, and plastic waste?
- New Markets:
- We need to move away from using, for example, PET/HDPE for like for like purposes.
- To this end, this business application is a prime case in point, and where plastic waste is used to manufacture composite plastic sleepers for use in track within the rail networks (here in the UK and abroad). This is already happening and the benefits (environmental / business / commercial) are clear to see: https://sicut.co.uk/
- Green Finance is already taking a lead here in terms of new market applications, and the Government should continue to facilitate this.
- Overseas Exports:
- Packaging Recovery Note (PRN):
- A packaging Recovery Note (PRN) is documented proof that packaging material has been recovered or recycled by an accredited recycling company. Given the issues outlined above; why should this continue to be the case?
- If plastic waste is being exported under the guise of recycling, as was the case in Turkey; how many Packaging Export Recovery Notes (PERN) were issued in this respect?
- If we are to facilitate a circular economy model, should the obligation not fall on the manufacturer, producer, or end user; that actually uses the recycled plastic waste in their process, as opposed to a PRN being issued by an accredited recycling company?
- PRN pricing should be investigated, as this potentially inhibits end use.
- National Materials Database:
- Unless material flows (inputs/outputs); and their related data sets can be tracked, measured and monitored effectively in a timely fashion; how can any policy or regulatory oversight be effective?
- Taiwan has an established National Materials Database and lessons can be learned from this.
- The ONS led an initiative on this, and this should be continued with funding provided by the Treasury to support it. The link between the OBR, Economic Models, Treasury and the National Materials Database becomes an obvious one.
- For example, the link between economic growth projections (GDP), and the material flow requirements (including rare earth metals/plastics), needed to achieve this economic growth forecast, and where from, is an obvious one. This also includes mitigating externality risk in material streams.
 I have no involvement or association here. Information sourced from a web search.
 I am familiar with this company, having been involved with them in the past.