The UK Plastics Pact Shows Major Advances In Four Key Areas.

In 2020, the UK Plastics Pact helped to reduce plastic packaging usage by 10%, DOUBLE recyclable content, and more (moving the UK forward in the climate crisis).

The impact (and the success) of the UK Plastics Pact, has so far – been felt around the world. The Pact is the first such initiative in the world: it’s on a mission to create a circular economy for plastic usage, by bringing together UK governments, NGO’s, and businesses – to tackle the plastic waste issue.

The Pact’s third annual report (as published by the global NGO, WRAP) shows collective progress towards the following 2025 environmental targets:

  1. Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative delivery models (i.e. reuse/refill),
  2. 100% of plastic packaging should be reusable, recyclable, or compostable,
  3. 70% of plastic packaging should be recycled or composted,
  4. And last but not least, there should be a 30% average in recycled content across ALL plastic packaging.

At a glance, the report highlights a number of key developments during the last twelve months. UK Plastics Pact members were able to reduce problematic single-use plastic items by 46%, and the amount of plastic packaging on supermarket shelves by 10%. This decline equates to a CO2e reduction of 335,000t: that’s the equivalent of taking 150,000 cars off the road since the Pact began!

The report also found that the amount of plastic packaging that is actually recycled, – increased from 44% to 52% in 2020, and recycled content doubled to 18% in two years – saving 140,000 tonnes of CO2e. 70% of plastic packaging is now either reusable or recyclable, and as packaging design has improved over the years, there was also a 70% drop in the number of components that makes packaging hard to recycle.

Impressively, the most significant reduction happened in PVC packaging (a major contaminant to the recycling system along with silicone), – which fell by more than 80%.

Since the Pact’s launch in 2008, more than 1.5 million additional households were able to recycle a wider range of plastic packaging. There has also been an increase in initiatives by brands and retailers, and an increased encouragement of infrastructure and investment announcements.

Morrisons recently announced the removal of plastic banana bags, reducing unnecessary plastic by 180 tonnes or 45 million bags annually.

Similarly, Sainsbury’s removed plastic components from some of their products – saving up to 156 tonnes of plastic per year. Nestlé UK & Ireland redesigned their confectionery bags to use significantly less packaging, saving 83 tonnes of plastic – the equivalent in area to 131 football pitches, and Heinz is set to introduce a new silicone-free cap for ketchup this year in 2022.

However, investment from industries in the sorting and in the reprocessing of plastic, – is vital to achieve the four targets. The report shows a “50% growth in plastic reprocessing in the UK, which is a massive improvement, and Recycle Week marked a record high in terms of the numbers of people recycling,” said Marcus Gover, WRAP’s CEO (the charity leading the Pact).

With companies such as Renew ELP, Viridor, and Yes Recycling set to reprocess thousands of tonnes of plastic in the coming few years, WRAP expects to see this growth continue to rise – “helping to keep [plastic] out of the environment,” highlighted Marcus. However, he also highlighted that “as COP26 made clear, we [still] have a long way to go, and little time to make big changes.”

Combined, this progress puts Pact members on track to achieve a 30% average on recycled content by 2025. WRAP warns that it is imperative that we continue to get high-quality recycled material for reprocessing. Improving material quality and recyclability through innovative design, whilst simultaneously increasing the amount of plastic packaging recycled and collected, – is as crucial now as ever.

In 2021, WRAP published their ‘industry best practice guidance’ on front-of-store collections, – urging more supermarkets to increase the number of citizens using collection points. Collection points are essential for hitting the Pact’s overall recycling target, as they provide opportunities to recycle challenging materials.

Following this recommendation, as outlined in the report, Tesco, Co-op, and Sainsbury’s have made national collection points available for flexible plastic collections. Aldi Stores Ltd, Asda, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons and Waitrose & Partners are also piloting similar collections.

Since their introduction, collection points have already saved more than one million barrels of virgin oil, and the number of collection points are anticipated to reach more than 6,000 in January 2022 – preserving the earth’s natural resources – mitigating climate change.

“The UK Plastics Pact arose at a time of great public concern about plastic pollution, and it’s been a constant and practical programme for collective change to ‘reset’ our relationship with plastic. Comparing 2020 against 2018, it has shown a strong progress against its environmental targets during a period of unmitigated societal upheaval,” said Marcus.

Also, they are “creating a real sea of change, which shows how businesses are rising to the challenge of cutting their use of plastic and increasing recycling,” affirmed Jo Churchill, the UK Resources and Waste Minister on the success of the Pact so far. But if the Pact is to hit it’s targets by 2025, Jo states that we need to deliver more systemic changes in our recycling processes and infrastructure. With increased help from regulating bodies, this may very well be achievable.

Currently in progress, the parliament is consulting over the banning of “a range of further single-use plastics, and through [their] exciting new Environment Act, [they] will make manufacturers more responsible for their packaging,” as highlighted by the UK Resources and Waste Minister. “With strong action from government and businesses, we can drastically reduce waste, make better use of our resources, and protect our natural environment,” said Jo optimistically.

Whilst this year has seen substantial rollouts of front-of-store collections, investments in recycling plants, and positive developments in the overall recycling of plastic bags and wrapping, the report shows that we have still not yet reached the scale required of us to achieve genuine change.

However, WRAP believes that by increasing our current efforts through investment and innovation, we can get our plastic crisis well… under wraps.

Plastics Pacts can be found on every populated continent on the planet. There are 12 Plastics Pacts around the world, and these Pacts all sit under, or are aligned with The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Plastics Pact Network, – all of which are working towards a circular economy for plastic.

New additions include the U.S. Plastics Pact, the Canada Plastics Pact, ANZPac, the India Plastics Pact, and the Kenya Plastics Pact. WRAP continues on as a secretariat to the European Plastics Pact.

WRAP was Founded in 2000. As an NGO, they work collaboratively with governments, businesses, and individuals to ensure that the world’s natural resources are used sustainably. WRAP spearheads a number of other initiatives and citizen-led campaigns, too. These include: The Courtauld Commitment 2030, Textiles 2030, Love Food Hate Waste, Love Your Clothes, Clear on Plastics and Recycle Now, and of course, the UK Plastics Pact.

You can find out more here.