UK Plastics Pact cuts unnecessary plastic by 40% and increases plastic recycling

WRAP today publishes its second annual report for The UK Plastics Pact showing that members have made some good progress against targets.

The progress includes a reduction in the amount of plastic packaging being used and improvements in plastic recycling at home.

WRAP's Chief Executive Marcus Gover commented “It’s great to see UK Plastics Pact members cutting unnecessary plastic packaging by 40% and increasing recycling to 50% in just one year. This was exactly why we set up the Pact - to tackle problematic plastic, increase re-use and recycling, and stop plastic polluting the environment. I am delighted with the progress and very pleased to see leading businesses trialling refill and reuse alternatives.”

The UK Plastics Pact was the world’s first initiative to bring together the entire plastics value chain along with governments and citizens to accelerate more circular use of plastic packaging materials – to achieve four world-leading, ambitious and measurable targets by 2025. Here is a summary of the latest reported progress:

Target 1

400 million “problematic and unnecessary items” classified under Target 1 were sold by Pact members in 2019.

Most Pact members are on track to eliminate 6 of the 8 items and materials classified as “problematic and unnecessary items” under by the end of this year. The estimated tonnage of this material sold was 16,000 tonnes, showing a 30% reduction on 2018 levels.

While the amount of PVC has more than halved over this time period, from the outset it was clear that in some applications it would not be possible to remove PVC in the time period e.g. when used in pharmaceutical packaging where the product is licensed with the packaging.

Polystyrene remains an issue - Pact members need to proactively remove polystyrene and Danonefor example, has invested in new technologies to produce yogurt pots from PET or PP. Their new PET pots are recyclable and crucially allow recycled plastic content to be incorporated back into the pots.

Pact members reporting in 2018 and 2019 show a 6% reduction in plastic packaging placed on the market. Actions taken by members to address unnecessary packaging include Tesco removing shrink film from multi-packs of tinned foods and Pepsico reducing excess headspace in multi-packs of several leading brands of crisps.

Target 2

Today, 64% of plastic packaging placed on the market by Pact members is recyclable. WRAP urges Pact members across the value chain to improve this significantly by ensuring that flexible plastic packaging is widely recyclable in the UK.

Several brands and supermarkets are making inroads to reusables and refill including Asda, which launched its pilot sustainability store in 2020. Among plastic reduction and recycling initiatives, it offers common everyday items, personal care products and laundry products in refillable formats.

Asda estimate that the initiatives being trialled will save one million pieces of plastic per year. More trial results need to be shared across Pact members to show how reuse and refill can be commercially viable and scalable by 2025.

Aligned with The UK Plastic Pact polymer choice guidance, members are beginning to make the changes necessary to design their packaging for greater recyclability. Many members have removed non-recyclable black plastic including Quorn. Iconic designs have been altered to improve recyclability such as Ribena.

Target 3

The amount of plastic packaging that is being recycled increased from 44% in 2018 to 50% in 2019. That’s an additional 107,000 tonnes no longer being burned or buried. The number of local authorities collecting plastic pots/tubs/trays increased from 79% in 2018 to 84% in 2019 across the UK, while all continue to collect plastic bottles.

More people than ever before are recycling, with WRAP’s latest citizen research showing that almost nine in ten (87%) of UK households regularly recycle. Brands and retailers also continue to promote positive recycling behaviours.

Examples include Coca Cola which has created space on its bottle labels to communicate recycling messaging to citizens on pack. Morrisons has included front of pack recycling messaging across many ranges to inform and encourage customers to bring PE film back to store for recycling.

There has also been important investment in the recycling sector by Pact members. Jayplas has invested in a plastic film recycling plant with 100k tonnes of capacity. Veolia, in collaboration with Charpak and Unilever, will develop the UK’s first dual PET bottle and tray recycling facility.

Target 4

Average recycled content is now 13%, having risen from 9% in 2018. This equates to 700,000 barrels of new (virgin) oil and 66,000 tonnes of CO2e. There is a long way to go to reach the 30% target, but this is still a positive move.

Member actions include Coca Cola, who moved all PET bottles to 50% rPET content across all its brands. All innocent drinks bottles will contain 50% recycled content by summer 2021. Waitrose launched new packaging for its ‘treat tubs’ made from 90% recycled material.

Together we can

WRAP CEO Marcus Gover commented “Of course we will always need to do more to deliver our bold ambition for 2025. I am looking forward to UK Plastics Pact members eliminating more unnecessary plastic and further increasing the recyclability of packaging in 2021. Developing solutions to overcome the challenges of recycling flexible plastic packaging will be a particular priority."

"Collection points for plastic bags and films at supermarkets will be an important step in the right direction, but we need all supermarkets to collect all plastic films to make this work. Together we can. Together we will.”

Ecosurety is a member of the UK Plastics Pact and works with Pact members to help analyse their data and provide insights on where they should be focusing their efforts. Find out more here about how we can help.

Download the full 2019-20 annual report here

Ben Luger

Marketing projects specialist

Ben joined the team at the beginning of 2015 and helps drive marketing communications and projects for Ecosurety, including project managing the launch of the Ecosurety Exploration Fund and website content development.

Written by Ben Luger Published 08/12/2020 Topics Packaging
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