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The Clean Air Zone & the tip of the eco-tax iceberg

Eco-Innovation Advisor, Elizabeth Snape, explores how the introduction of the Clean Air Zone is the beginning of the 'eco-tax' iceberg.

I think everyone in Greater Manchester is aware of the introduction of the Clean Air Zone. Wherever your feelings lie, we may all have to accept this is the beginning of the ‘eco-tax’ iceberg.

Air pollution is clearly high on the agenda, but pollution of land and waterways are following shortly behind. With space filling up fast, landfill is an expensive place to store our waste in the UK. Incineration is a relatively inefficient way of generating energy and produces significant carbon emissions.

Another route has been to ship unwanted waste, like single use plastics, abroad – but countries around the world are gradually clamping down on this as their waste mountains pile up and this ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ tactic will be off the menu soon: for example, China banned most plastic waste imports in 2018, Turkey followed in 2021.

If we can’t create waste, there is one option left – a circular economy. This means taking full responsibility for the reuse and recycling of products through their entire lifecycle – not just to the point they have passed into a customer’s hands. How will this happen? By forcing businesses hand through legislation – which can be interpreted as ‘eco-taxes’. The move to a circular economy will be driving changes such as:


Recycling infrastructure improvements

Currently, a significant amount of waste is not sorted for re-use by households for municipal collection. Although some of this non-sorted waste is collected through individual methods such as clothing collection banks, or retailer specific used-packaging collection in stores, to recycle these materials at scale, significant infrastructure will need to be developed. How will this be funded? Perhaps by governments (through taxation) or private companies (through pricing increases to customers), or both.


Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes

Legislation designed to make businesses responsible for their entire product lifecycle. Either the producer will have to pay the charges to sell their product if it creates waste, or time and money will need to be invested in closing the loop from product design through to disposal. EPR schemes are underway in the EU and the UK will be enforcing them from 2023. Current EPR legislation is focussed on packaging, but more categories are sure to follow.

These are all costs business owners, consumers and taxpayers might ultimately bear. 

Meanwhile, the Green Claims Code was introduced by the UK government in 2021, paving the way to tackling the greenwashing prevalent throughout many industries now that sustainability is high on the public agenda.  Products and packing must actually conform to their sustainable claims, not just pay lip service.

Whether extra taxes are paid, or investment is made in developing new materials, processes, or recycling schemes to avoid such charges, innovation is needed to develop products and packaging that are ready for these legislative changes. For SME’s without the seven-figure R&D budgets of global corporations, this may seem a daunting task.

The good news is there are a wealth of opportunities to for eco-innovation to help you grow in a more climate-conscious direction, such as

  • sourcing responsible materials,
  • designing products that are durable and repairable,
  • developing low-waste, low-carbon production and delivery methods,
  • finding new markets for waste materials

Even better news: for SME (Small and Medium Enterprise) businesses in Greater Manchester, there is fully-funded support available to help with all of this – from idea generation and eco-design right through to commercialisation.

We can also help facilitate collaboration with universities, supported by match-funded Innovation vouchers as well as signposting the wealth of other specialist knowledge within the GC Business Growth Hub throughout your eco-discovery journey.

To start delivering eco-innovative products, services and processes within your business, please contact the Innovation team today.

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Elizabeth Snape

Elizabeth Snape, Eco Innovation Advisor

Elizabeth is an Eco Innovation Advisor at the GC Business Growth Hub, joining in 2022. She supports SMEs in Greater Manchester to commercialise eco-innovation – bringing new products, services and processes to market.

Elizabeth has a background in materials and manufacturing, holding a BSc in Textile Science & Technology from the University of Manchester and spending 10 years in technical textiles manufacturing environments. Focussing on product development and innovation strategy, her passion is to make materials and manufacturing more sustainable, and to strengthen UK industry. Having developed and commercialised innovative sustainable products, processes and developed global supply chains, she brings insights from this on-the-ground experience to the Eco Innovation service at the GC Business Growth Hub.  Elizabeth also has experience in sourcing and supplier development, improving the value of the supply chain as well as the eco-credentials. She enjoys bringing her technical expertise and passion for strategy and sustainability to help businesses in her home region of Greater Manchester.

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