What progress have we made on plastic?

WRAP has this week published its second annual report for the UK Plastics Pact. The report reveals good progress on the four key targets its set, including cutting unnecessary plastic by 40% and increasing recycling by 107,000 tonnes. The figures relate to 2019, and with the added hurdles presented by Covid-19, it will be next year before we see the full impact of that on progress against reduction targets. Read our assessment of the key findings of the report.

• The 2019 data show that UK Plastics Pact members are making some progress against all four targets however it is a mixed picture with significant challenges in certain areas which will impact on the delivery of the targets if not addressed as a matter of urgency.

Target 1Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (re-use) delivery models.

Relevant items for foodservice are plastic cutlery, plates and bowls.

Progress in 2019: 400 million items classed as problematic or unnecessary were sold by Pact members in 2019 (a 40% reduction from 2018)

Under the eight problematic or unnecessary plastic items for elimination, members are on track to remove most items by the end of 2020 timeframe however challenges remain around the elimination of polystyrene.

Success story: Compass Group is using 30 million fewer items of plastic cutlery annually..

Further opportunities for progress in 2021: Continue the push for recyclability as well as reuse and refill models. Look out for WRAP’s Eliminating Problem Plastics Report in the spring.

Target 2100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable:

Progress in 2019: The percentage of plastic packaging that is recyclable remains static at 64% with the recyclability of flexible plastic packaging remaining the major hurdle to improving this figure. If polyethylene and polypropylene films were recycled, 79% of packaging would be classed as recyclable. We must improve packaging design, initiate widespread collections, sorting and reprocessing capacity and build stable markets for the material; these are all issues that need urgent action from the entire plastics value chain.

Success story: M&S has eliminated 100% of the black plastic used to package its food products.

Further opportunities for progress in 2021: Further assessment of the barriers and work towards potential solutions to making reuse and refill commercially viable and scalable.

Target 370% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted:

Progress in 2019: The amount of plastic packaging that is being recycled is moving in the right direction, with an increase from 44% in 2018 to 50% in 2019. More people than ever before are recycling, with our latest citizen research showing that almost nine in ten (87%) of UK households regularly recycle. To continue this upward trend we must continue to invest in recycling capacity and capability and reinforce normative recycling messages through our citizen campaigns.

Success stories: Many brands have collaborated with TerraCycle to boost recycling of hard to recycle packaging. Interesting developments in investments made in the recycling sector, particularly in hard to recycle plastics. Veolia, in collaboration with Charpak and Unilever, will develop the UK’s first dual PET bottle and tray recycling facility.

Further opportunities for progress in 2021: Positive signals from Government suggest there will be a requirement for better sorting and processing of flexible packaging.

Target 4: 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging:

Progress in 2019: Members have made positive progress to include more recycled content in their packaging, moving from 9% to 13% in pursuit of our average 30% target. This is critical in reducing the plunder of the earth’s natural resources, saving carbon whilst stimulating the demand for material, bolstering efforts to build a circular economy for plastics.

Success story: Danone’s evian brand has introduced 100% recycled content into their top three best-selling bottles.

Further opportunities for progress in 2021: To meet this target, more plastic packaging needs to be collected and recycled.

As Plastics Pact members, we echo the words of WRAP CEO Marcus Grover: “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.”

You can read the full report here. And if you’re looking for more ideas to help you get drastic with plastic check out our Unwrapping Plastic guide

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