The second annual report for the UK Plastics Pact from WRAP, an environmental charity in the UK that works to ensure a sustainable use of natural resources, reveals that good progress is being made by the UK Plastics Pact member against various of the targets set.
According to the report, members of the Pact have successfully cut unnecessary plastic packaging by 40% and increased recycling to 50% within the space of just one year.
The 2019 UK Plastics Pact data show that the Pact’s first target - the elimination of problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (re-use) delivery models - resulted in a 40% reduction in the amount of items classed as problematic or unnecessary sold by Pact members in 2019 compared to 2018. Most Pact members are on track to eliminate 6 of the 8 items and materials so classified 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 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, for example when used in pharmaceutical packaging where the product is licensed with the packaging. Also, polystyrene remains an issue, According to the report, Pact members need to be more proactive in removing polystyrene. The report cites the example of Danone, which has invested in new technologies to produce yogurt pots from PET or PP, instead of PS. Their new PET pots are recyclable and crucially allow recycled plastic content to be incorporated back into the pots.
Members reporting in 2018 and 2019 show a 6% reduction in plastic packaging placed on the market. Members have tackled the issue of unnecessary packaging, examples of which include the joint initiative by Heinz and Tesco in removing shrink film from multi-packs of tinned foods and PepsiCo reducing excess headspace in multi-packs of several leading brands of crisps.
There is still some way to go to meet the second target - which calls for 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable. Today, 64% of plastic packaging placed on the market by Pact members is recyclable. Several brands and supermarkets have introduced reusables and refill, among which Asda, which collaborated with Taylors of Harrogate, PepsiCo and Unilever with seven brands including Persil, PG Tips and Radox to launch its pilot sustainability store in 2020. 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.
Members are also beginning to make the changes necessary to design their packaging for greater recyclability. Many members have removed non-recyclable black plastic, and iconic designs have been altered to improve recyclability.
Good progress was made on target 3, which calls for 70% of plastic packaging to be effectively recycled or composted. The amount of plastic packaging that was recycled increased from 44% in 2018 to 50% in 2019, which translates to an additional 107,000 tonnes that were not 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. WRAP’s latest citizen research showed that almost nine in ten (87%) of UK households regularly recycle, while brands and retailers continue to promote positive recycling behaviours. Considerable investment has been made in the recycling sector by Pact members, as well. 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.
The fourth target is aimed at achieving 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging. This percentage currently stands at 13%, having risen from 9% in 2018. Member actions include Coca-Cola, who moved all PET bottles to 50% rPET content across all core brands. Waitrose launched new packaging for its ‘treat tubs’ made from 90% recycled material and Unilever’s new Magnum tubs and lids for its ‘pints range’ are made with recycled polypropylene (rPP).
For 2021, developing solutions to overcome the challenges of recycling flexible plastic packaging will be a particular priority, said WRAP CEO Marcus Gover.
And according to Environment Minister Rebecca Pow, “Our landmark Environment Bill will also give us powers to introduce deposit return schemes for drinks containers and extended producer responsibility for packaging. From 2022 we will also introduce a world-leading tax on plastic packaging which doesn’t meet a minimum threshold of at least 30% recycled content.”