‘Single-use’ misleading consumers about recycling drinks packaging

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The term ‘single-use plastic’ is having a negative impact and confusing consumers about what to recycle when it comes to drinks packaging, research has revealed.

Nearly half (46%) of those questioned on behalf of the Natural Source Waters Association (NSWA) said they thought that the term ‘single-use plastic’ meant the item described had to go to landfill or for incineration.

While this would accurately describe unrecyclable ‘single-use’ plastics such as balloons, stirrers, cotton buds and straws, it is not accurate for items such as PET drinks bottles, which are 100% recyclable and can come back as another bottle if they are recycled.

Repeated use of this term without thought of the unintended consequences might explain why 30% of respondents did not know that plastic drinks bottles are 100% recyclable.

This confusion is likely to have an adverse effect on the recycling rates of plastic drinks containers in the UK.

“If we’re really going to improve recycling rates we all need to use clear, positive language,” said Bryan McCluskey, Circularity Director at NSWA.

“The term ‘single-use plastic’ is not helping people to do the right thing with their plastic bottles.”

Many companies are increasingly using recycled plastic in their packaging, as seen in the UK Plastic Pact’s 2018 Report published at the end of last year.

Natural source water companies are leading the way, with NSWA members using increasing amounts of recycled material in their packaging, up to 100% recycled content in some cases.

“Our members want to use recycled content and to meet this demand we need people to recycle their drinks bottles,” added McCluskey. “We are working with the Scottish and UK Governments on the introduction of Deposit Return Systems.”

The need for clear and balanced discussion on packaging was highlighted in the Green Alliance’s Plastic Promises report, which warned against the consequences of demonising plastic and rushing to find alternatives, “to avoid the risk of simply substituting current environmental problems with new ones”.

To help improve recycling rates, positive messaging that encourages people to put items such as PET drinks bottles in the recycling is very important. This will help to stop them ending up in landfill or worse still, the environment. It will also help secure the high quality, recycled material for producers are keen to use in their packaging.