New studies on plastic packaging reveal UK companies unaware of new tax while consumers heap expectation on manufacturers and retailers

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

A study into plastic packaging usage by Toluna showed 69% of people believe supermarkets and retailers are responsible for reducing the amount of plastic used. Pic: Getty Images/Inna Tarasenko
A study into plastic packaging usage by Toluna showed 69% of people believe supermarkets and retailers are responsible for reducing the amount of plastic used. Pic: Getty Images/Inna Tarasenko

Related tags Plastic Plastic packaging Recycling Sustainability

With less than a year to go until the Plastic Packaging Tax is introduced in the UK, a study by Veolia shows 83% of businesses asked were not even aware of the tax.

In 2018, the Treasury first announced the tax on plastics and in April 2022 the Plastic Packaging Tax will be introduced in the UK. The tax places a £200 ($273) per tonne levy on producers or importers of plastic packaging if they do not include 30% recycled content and will affect all businesses in this area.

Alongside this, a new UK study into plastic packaging usage by Toluna, a tech company operating in the market research space, showed 69% of people believe supermarkets and retailers are responsible for reducing the amount of plastic used – and many want to see more progress.

Veolia’s research found the two biggest drivers for acting more sustainably in business are Government mandate (30%) and an environmental conscience (48%). The Plastic Packaging Tax is Government policy aiming to directly increase plastic recycling in the UK and cut carbon emissions.

If all plastics were recycled the savings would be between 30 and 150m tonnes of carbon annually. Veolia, which collect more than 100,000 tonnes for recycling annually in the UK, recently expanded its operations to be able to recycle dozens of different grades of plastics.

Tim Duret, director of sustainable technology at Veolia UK and Ireland, said, “The Plastics Packaging Tax is removing the economic burden of acting more sustainably and leveling the playing field for businesses. In order to continue this momentum, we need to escalate the tax and roll it out across all types of plastics like construction, cars, furniture and electric goods.

“It is essential that we continue pairing our actions with the backing of policy. 84% of businesses we spoke to agreed and support the incremental increase to the Plastic Packaging Tax. This will boost the circular economy, encourage more domestic infrastructure, create jobs, and ultimately reduce the UK’s climate impact.”

Helen Bird, strategic technical manager – plastics, at sustainability charity group WRAP, said, “The end market for recycled plastic is central to circularity and it’s positive to see that ahead of implementation, the Plastics Tax has positively impacted on demand. However, challenges remain. For some packaging it is practical to reach higher levels of recycled content, while for others, the roll out of technological developments will be required to include any.

While we continue to export more than half of the UKs plastic packaging waste, many businesses are struggling to secure enough recycled material to meet targets such as The UK Plastics Pact, and tax obligations. We must continue to work together to drive investment to overcome these challenges and act more sustainably.”

It’s also clear consumers want to see action.

The new Toluna study on plastic packaging usage, which polled 1,000 people in the UK, showed four in 10 are very concerned about how much plastic is used in food and drink items, with those aged between 55 and 64 years old (51%) and over 65 (49%) being most worried.

And while consumers are a part of the solution, the survey would imply they expect companies and manufacturers should take the responsibility, as 73% of people believe reduced plastic use is the responsibility of brands or manufacturers.

Consumers also want supermarkets to act: 60% of people want to see them reduce the use of plastic packaging, and a further 19% feel supermarkets haven’t done enough and need to do much more. Seven in 10 of those surveyed said it’s the responsibility of supermarkets and retailers to reduce plastic use.

A third of 55- to 64-year-olds do not think supermarkets have done enough and think they need to do much more to reduce plastic waste, and half of this age group also believe there are not enough plastic alternatives available.

No alternative to plastic packaging was cited as the third biggest issue (46%) surrounding plastic packaging, behind plastic pollution in the oceans (65%) and pollution on land (54%).

Most consumers (65%) don’t think there are enough plastic-free options on offer for the products they buy despite many trying to avoid plastic packaging.

However, economically, a third of respondents thought plastic alternatives were too expensive, with 42% stating shopping plastic-free was more costly. A quarter of people also believe plastic alternatives aren’t as durable.

Lucia Juliano, research sector head, CPG at Toluna, said, “It’s clear that businesses and consumers alike are aware of plastic packaging use and there’s a common goal to drive down overall use as we continue to fight against climate change. However, there’s a feeling that brands, retailers, manufacturers and supermarkets need to do more to reduce plastic packaging with people feeling that supermarkets in particular haven’t made great progress in reducing plastic use in the last five years.

“It’s vital that a greater variety of packaging is provided when it comes to plastic free options. Doing this increases the number of plastic-free products that consumers can buy and therefore contribute to plastic reduction across the UK. In short, our research confirms that everyone needs to do more from manufacturers and supermarkets to brands and, of course, shoppers.”