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Environment

The UK ‘Opposed New EU Recycling Targets' Despite Big Plastic Crackdown

The UK government has been accused of opposing new recycling targets set out by the EU, weeks after publicly announcing a crackdown on plastic waste.

Theresa May announced a 25-year environmental strategy earlier this month, which aims to “set the global gold standard” on eliminating plastic, according to environment minister Michael Gove. 

But a Greenpeace investigation, from its “Unearthed” reporting team, claims the UK said it was “unable to support” an EU-wide ambition to increase recycling targets. 

Take action: Fight Waste to Protect Our Oceans

The new targets, for all EU member states, would aim to recycle 65% of all municipal waste (rubbish that’s thrown away by homes and businesses) by 2035 — including 50% of all plastics.

Leaked notes from the delegation in Brussels which is negotiating the targets, however, showed that the UK said it couldn't get on board “because of the municipal waste recycling targets,” according to the investigation. 

One EU diplomat reportedly told “Unearthed” that the UK had been “quite blunt.”

Read more: This Major UK Supermarket Chain Just Pledged to Be Totally Plastic Free by 2023

“It seems the government has been vocally backing ambitious recycling targets in Westminster while quietly opposing them in Brussels,” said Louise Edge, of Greenpeace UK.

“If Gove wants to avoid accusations of hypocrisy, he should make sure his department speaks with one voice on both sides of the Channel,” she added. 

A spokesperson for Gove’s department, the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), told Greenpeace: “The government will make a decision on its vote following close scrutiny of the proposals, which are still provisional.”

They added that “our recycling rates are rising, less waste is now sent to landfill and separate food waste collections are increasing.” 

“But as set out in the Clean Growth Strategy and 25-year environment plan, we are working with industry to improve the nation’s recycling rates further,” they said. 

Read more: How China's 'Shock' Decision to Ban Recycled Plastic Is an 'Impending Crisis' for the UK

The 25-year plan announced this month by the UK government includes initiatives such as rolling out the plastic bag tax to all retailers, not just those with more than 250 staff; encouraging plastic-free aisles in supermarkets; and banning plastic straws.

The DEFRA spokesperson added that the UK will “have the opportunity to strengthen and enhance our environmental standards even further by delivering a Green Brexit” when it leaves the EU. 

EU nations currently have a legally-binding target of achieving a recycling rate for municipal waste of 50% by 2020. Six member states have already hit that target, while Germany already has a recycling rate of 66%. 

The UK’s recycling rate has risen significantly in recent years — from 11% to 2000 to 44%. But it has stalled there, and the UK is currently predicted to miss the 50% target. 

Read more: The Long-Awaited Ban on Plastic Microbeads in the UK Is Finally Here

DEFRA conducted analysis in July 2017, saying that increasing the recycling rate to 65% would save thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions by 2100, and would save the waste sector billions of pounds by 2030. 

But the analysis also estimated the UK would only be able to meet a target of around 55% with the recycling system as it stands at the moment. 

To reach higher targets than 55%, the system would need a significant overhaul, it found. 

The European Council and European Parliament reached a provisional agreement on the Waste Framework Directive — a series of laws on waste and recycling, which includes the recycling targets — in December. But the directive is currently being processed through the EU, and is expected to be finalised in the next month. 

Read more: 200 MPs Call on UK Supermarkets to Scrap Plastic Packaging

It is “unlikely the UK will be able to water down the targets,” Piotr Barczak, waste policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau, told Greenpeace

“But with support from other member states it might further delay the adoption and implementation of the laws, which would in turn increase the risk of waste-related pollution in the UK,” he added. 

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