When David Cameron won the general election in 2010, he claimed the fateful coalition would be ‘the greenest government ever’.

As the clock ticks down to a general election 14 years later, many of the flagship policies dreamed up on the environment, at least when it comes to the food and drink industry, are at best still just dreams.

At worst, they have shown themselves to be unviable, poorly conceived, hopelessly executed, riddled with political exceptionalism and a strong whiff of hubris – plunging the industry into costly uncertainty and wasted effort as many have been axed as a result.

So it is a crucial time for whoever forms the next government to consider the UK’s sustainability policy afresh. Expectations, unlike with Cameron, have not exactly been raised – both the Tories and Labour in fact having carried out backtracks on their green ambitions.

A senior drinks source tells The Grocer this week that “with a heavy heart” he expects those ambitions to falter still further in the face of continued economic headwinds.

That doesn’t bode well, with strong government leadership vital for projects such as extended producer responsibility, the deposit return scheme and Scope 3 emissions reporting.

So the last thing the industry and the incoming government (whatever colour) needs is an emerging scandal over another of its flagship policies.

The Plastic Packaging Tax, which came into force amid much fanfare in April 2022, was supposed to be a key weapon in incentivising companies to reduce their use of virgin plastic, in the face of public outrage following the revelations of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet and other campaigns.

As The Grocer has previously reported, poor implementation has meant the plastic tax is not working. While raking in millions, none has been set aside for the environment, and the tax has also failed to prompt any major shift towards the use of recycled plastic.

However, according to a leading player in the European recycling industry, these issues are just the tip of the iceberg. Philippe von Stauffenberg, CEO of UK-based Greenback Recycling Technologies, tells The Grocer this week that loopholes and lack of enforcement are resulting in tens of thousands of tonnes of material dodging the government’s plastic tax, undermining the war on plastic still further.

Von Stauffenberg has called this week for the next government to “wake up” to the situation before it is too late, arguing that the lack of enforcement has encouraged even well-intentioned companies to keep costs down, pressured by retailer reluctance, by using phony recycled product.

He claims the rules are so weak that the self-regulation reports are now routinely unreliable. This is not entirely a new revelation, either. MPs discussed the situation in a debate back in October but nothing appears to have been done about it.

Von Stauffenberg has written to Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, urging an incoming Labour government to launch a major crackdown, claiming the current administration simply don’t want to know. Reeves has promised not to bring in new taxes. But at the very least, she should make sure the current ones work.