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Dec 4, 2018 / Richard Hall

UK policy lead on sugar, plastic

Two of the biggest issues in my working life around food and drink have been health and sustainability.

The key questions have always been – What are the facts ? And how best to change behaviour ?

But almost every aspect is disputed. Facts may change over time. Policy depends on feasibility.

Right or wrong, the United Kingdom is one of the best countries at taking new initiatives, which are then followed by other nations.

It did this on sugar. It targeted soft drinks, set high and mid-level sugar triggers and gave some time for industry to adjust. Various other countries have since copied this approach.

The same may now happen with plastic. The European Parliament has addressed some aspects of plastic: in seeking to ban certain single-use items by 2021; alongside reducing use of other items; and increasing collection and recycling to 90% by 2025. But this has yet to be formulated as legislation.

It is the UK Government again that is leading the way on taxation. The formula is similar to the one for sugar.

  • It requires a specific behaviour change by industry – the inclusion of 30% recycled content.
  • It allows time for implementation – 1st April 2022, one more year than for sugar.
  • It provides limited other details, preparing for extensive consultation.
  • It regards the measure as just one step on a longer journey.

I was critical of the sugar tax on soft drinks for failing to tackle the wider issue of obesity and obstructing the opportunity for more comprehensive action.

I expect other countries will also copy the 30% rPET target, but all packaging needs scrutiny and people need motivation beyond taxes.

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