Together we can tackle plastics waste

The UK Plastics Pact is a trailblazing, collaborative initiative creating a circular economy for plastics in the UK. It brings together businesses from across the entire plastics value chain - from plastic packaging producers, brands, manufacturers, retailers, waste management companies and recyclers as well as UK government and NGOs, to tackle the scourge of plastic waste.

Recently WRAP published The UK Plastics Pact 2018-19 data report a clear indication of members’ starting position towards the four targets, as well as where the biggest challenges lie. The Plastics Pact has four targets to reach by 2025:
  1. Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery models
  2. 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable
  3. 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted
  4. 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging

Members of The UK Plastics Pact represent two thirds of all plastic packaging placed on the market in the UK, and around 85% of all plastic packaging sold through supermarkets. The action that members have already and will be taking, make a big difference. The benefits to local authorities will be:

  • A reduction in unnecessary plastic packaging arisings
  • More recyclable plastic packaging
  • Reduced residual waste
  • Higher material values
  • Reduced confusion for citizens
  • Support from businesses to motivate and inform citizens on what and how to recycle

The report highlights some of the actions being taken by businesses, such as the trialling and roll out of unpackaged fresh produce, switching to plastics with a higher market value, moving away from plastics which are not recycled and engaging with citizens on recycling including through the use of on pack recycling labelling, on-pack messages e.g. 'Recycle me' on caps and promotion of recycling through advertising space.

Citizen behaviour around recycling is improving
The report shares evidence that behaviour around recycling is improving. The WRAP 2019 Recycling Tracker found that 60% of households are recycling one or more extra items than they were last year; the Recycle Now website had an 80% increase in traffic; and 3.9 million people across the UK used the Recycling Locator last year, to find out where and how to recycle certain materials.

Challenges in film recycling
In 2018, 65% of plastic packaging sold by Pact members was recyclable. The report provides a breakdown of non-recyclable packaging, highlighting that plastic film in particular is a key challenge. The challenges are complex and interconnected but a strategy is in place and will be shared with local authorities in the coming months. Supermarkets are rising to the challenge of collection, with all the large retailers providing collection points for stretchy film e.g. carrier bags, bread bags and frozen food bags. Local authorities can help increase awareness of these collection points to residents.

Citizen engagement

Citizen engagement will be one of the key areas of focus for the future, and as local authorities you have a crucial role to play. Despite progress, just over half of UK householders dispose of one or more items in the general rubbish that is collected for recycling in their area.

Over the next 12 months and beyond, the national recycling campaign, Recycle Now, in collaboration with Plastics Pact members and supporters, will supercharge plastics recycling in the UK in pursuit of the 70% plastics recycling target. Upcoming areas of focus will be:

  • A bathroom recycling campaign – Our research suggests that recycling of bathroom items is low compared to items from other areas in the home.
  • A ‘bring back your bottle’ behaviour change pilot project encouraging a ‘hang on until you can recycle it’ behaviour, bringing bottles you buy on-the-go back home to recycle.
  • A back to basics recycling campaign - to remind citizens of the recyclability of the most commonly used packaging items - such as milk bottles and drinks bottles.
  • Plastic film recycling – promoting what can be recycled and where

It’s encouraging to see solid progress; but there is still a lot of work to be done. Local authorities have a great opportunity to get involved by following and supporting Recycle Now and the Plastics Pact (WRAP_UK) on social media; and by using the many resources available to run their own campaigns alongside ours. Together, we can deliver more consistent and recognisable messages to citizens, helping to drive better behaviour change around plastics.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the UK Plastics Pact, join our webinar on 5th March at 12.30pm. You can register here.