Plastic bottles

Loopholes and a lack of enforcement are leading to tens of thousands of tonnes of material dodging the government’s plastic tax, risking the war on the material.

That is the claim from a leading recycling technology boss, who has written to Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, urging an incoming Labour government to launch a major crackdown on what he said was widespread “cheating”.

Philippe von Stauffenberg, CEO of UK-based Greenback Recycling Technologies, told The Grocer the behaviour of companies was at risk of turning into a future scandal which could taint the entire war on plastic, while lining the pockets of unscrupulous operators helping companies to get round the legislation.

“I can tell you any video game has better technology than the government is using to enforce the plastic tax,” he said.

“Because it uses self-declaration, all an importer has to do is show a certificate from an exporter on the other side saying ‘recycled product’.

“That’s just not good enough, because people who are actually doing the right thing will be competed out of the market.”

Von Stauffenberg said the advent of AI technologies meant a raft of new tools were now available to provide traceability at limited extra cost, to allow better enforcement.

“In the past you didn’t have the tools to do this, but now you do because you have IoT devices, you have AI technology that can tell you when things aren’t what they claim to be, or image recognition tools.

“I have written to Rachel Reeves because the current government has shown it is far too laissez-faire about he whole situation to do anything about it.

“The new government needs to do something and needs to be woken up to what’s going on.”

Von Stauffenberg is not the first to raise concerns over companies avoiding the tax. In October, MPs at a Westminster Hall debate also raised fears that HMRC’s reliance on self-declaration was leading to a lack of enforcement since the tax on products containing less than 30% recycled plastic came into force in April 2022.

Concerns have also been raised elsewhere in Europe over enforcement of rules on plastic which require self-certification.

The Greenback boss added: “I’ve spent the last 20 years in compliance, and what you realise is that everybody always talks about wanting to do something for the environment, but the moment you have to negotiate its cost something gets really, really hard.

“The cost of having 30% recycled content is absolutely minimal – it’s like 10% of a penny – but when you add it all up, you can be talking millions of pounds of additional costs.

“The companies don’t want to pass it on and the buyers don’t want to have it on their balance sheet. That’s what leads to this widespread cheating.”