Last month, the government announced consideration of a waste incineration tax to help increase plastic recycling rates. Here, Ruben Maistry, sales manager at Stadler Engineering, discusses how introducing such a tax could actually prove counter-productive for sustainable waste management.
Initially proposed by the Liberal Democrats ahead of the 2015 general election, the idea of an incineration tax was resurrected in May as a possible tool to help tackle the issue of plastic waste. Under the guise of driving recycling rates, it has been positioned as the next landfill tax.
By charging businesses for every tonne of plastic waste they recover, the government hopes to improve recycling nationwide, a key priority following the EU’s adoption of the Circular Economy Package (23 May). Yet, one expert believes such a tax could actually damage progress towards sustainability – potentially even leading to widespread waste crime.
Maistry explains: “While proposed as the latest initiative to support our national purge on plastic waste, the introduction of an incineration tax could actually prove counter-productive. Alongside increasing landfill rates, it would punish companies for adhering to the waste hierarchy.
“Although improving plastic recycling is key, we must remember there are a number of unrecyclable plastics commonly used by packaging companies nationwide. It is impossible to recycle these materials, so we must recover their value in another way. Incineration is the sustainable solution to do so.
“Recovering waste and using it as green energy demonstrates a sustainable, best practice approach. While it doesn’t necessarily follow the principals of a circular economy, the only alternative is landfill.
“In addition, the tax ignores the issue of contamination. Our dated collection infrastructure means that while a high percentage of waste is now deposited in recycling bins, poor segregation means contamination is rife. We can’t reprocess this low-quality feedstock, so again, we must recover its value or risk simply sending it to landfill.
“Instead of an incineration tax, the government should do more to encourage best practice recycling across the UK. The incineration tax seems poorly thought out. Recycling rates won’t increase by penalising energy recovery. The technique has a vital role to play, especially with landfill space depleting. We need to follow the waste hierarchy and prioritise sustainability, especially when recycling is not an option.”