One billion problematic and unnecessary single use plastic items will be eliminated by the end of 2020, so says the first annual report and baseline data from The UK Plastics Pact.
The UK Plastics Pact is a collaborative initiative that will create a circular economy for plastics that brings together businesses from across the value chain with UK governments and NGOs.
The report from Wrap gives a comprehensive snapshot of progress against collective targets aimed at achieving a systemic overhaul of the plastics system in the UK.
It shows that Pact members are over halfway towards all their packaging being recyclable, and the UK is over half-way towards recycling 70% of plastic packaging. Moreover, members are a third of the way towards an average of 30% recycled content in their plastic packaging.
However, it highlighted that “highly complex” challenges remain, such as developing a recycling system for films and flexible packaging.
Target 1 – Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging
Members are set to remove a total of 1.1 billion items of problematic and unnecessary single use plastic by the end of 2020, with several items such as straws and cotton buds already eliminated by the majority of members.
Supermarkets have already removed 3,400 tonnes of unnecessary plastic packaging from fresh produce – the equivalent of 272 London buses – and 137.5 million plastic stickers from fruit and vegetables.
Target 2 – 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable
In 2018, 65% of the plastic packaging sold by Pact members was recyclable. Recent activity includes the removal of more than 19,000 tonnes of non-recyclable black plastic by supermarkets – the equivalent of 1.5 billion ready meal trays.
By the end of 2020 all members are aiming to remove 21,000 tonnes of unrecyclable PVC and polystyrene from their packaging.
There has also been an increase in reusable packaging, such as the Waitrose ‘Unpacked’ trial stores providing refill stations for dry goods, wine, beer, and detergent refillables.
A key challenge will be developing a recycling system for plastic films (e.g. bread bags and crisp packets) which account for 25% of consumer plastic packaging, but only 4% is recycled. This will need to include innovation and investment in advanced recycling processes.
Target 3 – 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted
As a nation we’re currently recycling 44% of our plastic packaging. This is being supported by crucial new investment in UK reprocessing of plastic, including new facilities being announced by waste management giants Viridor and Biffa.
Ensuring that citizens have the right information and motivation to recycle remains a challenge. All the supermarkets are signed up to the On-Pack Recycling Labelling system and brands such as Pepsi, evian, and innocent drinks have enhanced their on-pack recycling labelling, to make it clearer for citizens.
All the major supermarkets are helping customers to recycle more by providing plastic recycling collection points in store for stretchy film plastic – such as frozen food bags, carrier bags and bread bags, which normally can’t be recycled from home.
Target 4 – 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging
In 2018 the average amount of recycled content was 10% across Pact members’ plastic packaging. This is saving more than half a million barrels of oil (more than 90,000 tonnes) in virgin plastic production and is equivalent to more than half a million dolphins in weight.
Actions by Pact members include brands launching water bottles using 100% recycled content such as Coca Cola’s Glaceau Smartwater and Highland Spring’s Eco Bottle. Recycled content in personal care and laundry products is also increasing.
A key challenge towards meeting 30% is ensuring there is enough high quality recycled plastic available. This is why improvements in designing packaging for recycling are so important, for example the move by Sprite from green to clear bottles this year.
Meeting these four targets by 2025 will not only result in a circular economy for plastics, but also a reduction in virgin plastic production. This will be achieved not solely through increasing the levels of recycled content in packaging and products, but also as a result of refill solutions and moving away from problematic or unnecessary plastics.