Environmental Law News Update

March 26, 2024

Plastic recycling: taking stock

The presence of plastics is very obvious to us all when we go shopping, and we spend much time recycling the plastic bottles, packets and tubs we buy. Recycled plastics are also increasingly prominent. A recent House of Commons report[1] reminds us to take stock of the current targets and ambitions, and the evolving legislative framework in this complex area.

Government strategy can be summarised as using less, re-using and recycling. Those concepts are drawn from the ‘Waste Hierarchy’ of the Waste Framework Directive of 2008, and are legally binding. Paragraph 3 of Schedule 9 of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016 requires the regulator to “exercise its relevant functions… for the purposes of ensuring that… the waste hierarchy referred to in Article 4 of the Waste Framework Directive is applied”.

Taxation at source is part of the programme. Part 2 of the Finance Act 2021 provided for a tax called the ‘Plastic Packaging Tax’. This was provided for in the Plastic Packaging Tax (General) Regulations 2022, and became effective from April 2022. It began as a flat charge of £200 per tonne for plastic packaging which is not made up of 30% recycled plastic, and is now rising to £217.85 per tonne from 1 April 2024. There are exceptions. Another well-known tax aimed at discouraging use is the single use carrier bag tax, provided for in the Single Use Carrier Bags Charges (England) Order 2015, updated in 2021.

Bans are also in place. Part 2 of the Environmental Protection (Plastic Plates etc. and Polystyrene Containers etc.) (England) Regulations 2023 created offences for the supply of some single use plastics, subject to exceptions. It follows on a similar ban for plastic straws and stirrers with The Environmental Protection (Plastic Straws, Cotton Buds and Stirrers) (England) Regulations 2020.

The wider legislative framework is to drive producer responsibility, so that manufacturers of plastic must ensure recovery and recycling of their goods. Sections 50 and 51 of the Environment Act 2021 are particularly relevant here. The Government has suggested[2] new Extended Producer Responsibility Regulations will be forthcoming, perhaps from October 2025, so that the full cost of collecting, recycling and disposing of plastics will lie with producers, and not with local authorities. Producers will be required to pay an EPR fee to local authorities to cover the costs. We await future developments with interest and will report on them as they arise.


Trawling ban in marine protected areas

A new byelaw came into effect on 22 March 2024, which prohibits ‘bottom towed fishing gear’ being used in 13 offshore marine protected areas (‘MPAs’).

The byelaw was made by the Marine Management Organisation (‘MMO’), which has powers under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 to effect marine conservation byelaws. The byelaw prohibits trawling in these MPAs, defining[3] bottom towed fishing gear to mean “any trawls, seines, dredges, or similar gear, including trawls towed on or very close to the seabed…”.

The byelaw is not the first of its type, others have previously been effected[4], and it is notable that the Government notes ‘high adherence’ to their prohibitions, “with as few as 17 potential infringements detected between June 2022 (when first MMO byelaws for four offshore MPAs came into effect) to the end of 2023”.

The total area included is 4000 square kilometres of seabed, which brings the total coverage of seas similarly protected to nearly 18,000 square kilometres of seabed. The Acting Chief Executive of the MMO stated that this byelaw “brings us another step closer in our ambitious programme to protect all 54 English offshore MPAs from fishing activity by the end of 2024.’’[5] We will report with further news as the year progresses.


Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill

On 21 March 2024, the Scottish Parliament passed the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill. This Bill aimed to change two main things:

  1. rules around how people can capture and kill certain wild birds and wild animals; and
  2. rules around the making of muirburn. Muirburn is the intentional and controlled burning of moorland vegetation to encourage new growth (either heather or grassland) for land management purposes, such as management of moorland game and wildlife or improving the grazing potential of the moorland for livestock or deer.

This new law provides a range of measures, including:

  • bans the practice of snaring;
  • bans the use of glue traps to catch rodents;
  • gives greater powers to Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals inspectors to tackle wildlife crime;
  • introduces a new licencing framework for grouse moors; and
  • strictly regulates the use of muirburn.

Agriculture Minister Jim Fairlie said: “This Bill is a significant step in our wider journey to ensure Scotland’s environment is managed sustainably. People who live and work on our land have shown that it’s possible to manage wildlife. They have shown that muirburn, which is a key approach to helping manage wildfires, can be undertaken responsibly and in a way that protects biodiversity. We have struck the right balance between improving animal welfare, supporting rural businesses and reinforcing a zero tolerance approach to raptor persecution and wildlife crime.”

It appears the reaction has been mixed. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation has warned the government of the “ruinous” impact the Bill will have on the country’s biodiversity and rural economy. However, many environmental and animal welfare campaigners are celebrating this change in law. Cats Protection says Scotland’s ban on snares is a turning point for animal welfare and will prevent cruel and horrific deaths being inflicted on pets and wildlife.


Only time will tell if the legislation meets its objectives, strikes the right balance and can be adequately enforced.

[1] https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8515/

[2] See the response to the packaging waste recycling consultation of 2022: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/packaging-waste-recycling-notes-reform

[3] Available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/marine-protected-areas-bottom-towed-fishing-gear-byelaw-2023

[4] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/marine-conservation-byelaws

[5] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/bottom-towed-fishing-gear-prohibited-over-reef-habitats-in-13-marine-protected-areas