Retailers to pay up to £1bn for recycling under waste strategy

Updated: Nov 13, 2018

Supermarkets, retailers and major drinks brands are set to pay tens of millions of pounds more towards recycling their used packaging under the government’s new waste strategy expected to be published this month, the Guardian understands.

Supermarkets and other major producers of packaging waste currently pay a small fraction of the cost of collecting and recycling the 11m tonnes of packaging waste produced in the UK.

Ministers are considering several options to improve recycling, stop abuses to the export market in plastic packaging and make companies pay more towards collecting and recycling their own waste.

Sources with knowledge of the new waste strategy, which is due to be published in a few weeks, said it contained plans to significantly increase contributions from retailers and producers from an average of about £70m a year to between £500m and £1bn a year.

In 2017 local authorities spent £700m on collecting and sorting recycling, compared with £73m from major businesses including leading supermarket chains and retailers, according to the National Audit Office.

There are also plans to increase the number of companies who have to contribute, from 7,002 at the moment, to include smaller producers.


Any new system must take into account the EU circular economy package, which the British government has signed and which should roll over into UK law after Brexit. It requires food and drink companies and other retailers to cover the net costs of household recycling collections by local authorities, bringing the UK in line with other European countries such as Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Abuses and corruption go largely undetected in the current system while many large companies dodge paying entirely. The structure encourages the export of plastic waste to countries where it can end up leaking into the ocean or going to landfill rather than contributing to investment in UK reprocessing.

Earlier this year the Guardian reported the plastics recycling industry was under investigation for suspected widespread abuse and fraud within the export system.

Two-thirds of UK plastic packaging waste is exported rather than reprocessed in the UK, by an export market the National Audit Office has condemned as “a comfortable way for government to meet targets without facing up to the underlying recycling issues”.

Since China banned the import of plastic waste, the UK has been chasing other markets in Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand, but these countries are also imposing restrictions due to the stockpiling of waste. Exports of UK plastic waste to Turkey are soaring as Britain struggles to find outlets for its packaging waste.