What future for plastics?

It’s been a big start to the year for plastic. Last week Theresa May’s speech on a long-term plan for the environment was heavily focused on how to cut back the use of plastic, and particularly to reduce plastic in the oceans. Now Iceland (the retailer, not the country in the North Atlantic, although maybe they will also be doing this at some point soon) has pledged to end plastic packaging on their own-brand products by 2023. Given that many of the products that you, as a convenience retailer, will stock are packaged in plastic, what does this mean for you?

There are probably two main impacts on your business: those related to the products you sell, and then new operational requirements that you may face in your own right.

Measures focused on product packaging could include requirements for less plastic to be used, for more biodegradable packaging, or for non-recyclable plastic to not be used at all. There could be a tax on plastics, and I think the government are attracted by the model of the sugary drinks levy which has incentivised manufacturers to change the formulation of products (though in truth much of this was already underway before the levy was announced). One caveat on a plastics tax: we already have a system for making packaging producers, manufacturers and retailers pay for the recovery and recycling of packaging, it’s called the Producer Responsibility (Packaging Waste) Regulations – this could definitely be looked at and improved, but don’t think that businesses aren’t already on the hook for the packaging they handle.

Then you have measures that would more directly impact on the way you run your store. Plastic free aisles, deposit return schemes and carrier bag levies would all bring some new legal responsibilities for you. Most retailers support carrier bag charging, and while the Government hasn’t actually committed to extending mandatory charging to small businesses, it still wants voluntary charging by small businesses before making this compulsory. Honestly, I would rather they bit the bullet and introduced the same rules across the board, but let’s commit to increasing the number of retailers that charge voluntarily.

The other measures that could be brought in for you to implement are much harder. They would require significant changes to your store, making new facilities available and / or giving new tasks to you and your colleagues. Maybe that’s justifiable given the scale of the problems related to plastic waste, but requiring 50,000 shops (just in our sector) to change their behaviour is inevitably costly, and difficult to police and enforce. It’s not credible for us to just shout “too difficult” when confronted with options for how we can play our part, but we have to look at the most effective ways of addressing this problem, and not fall into the trap of adopting new regulations because of the scale of the problem rather than the merits of that measure.

Given all this, I think the Prime Minister’s speech and overall strategy sets the right tone, and the right ambition to implement an effective approach which delivers lasting change. We will work closely with government to do this, so expect to hear lots from us on the details of policy in this area over the coming months and years.

This entry was posted by Chloe on Tue, 16/01/2018 - 15:07