Close up of a plastic bag - abstract

UK Plastics Pact cuts plastic packaging by 10% and doubles recycled content

30 November 2021

  • UK Plastics Pact members have reduced problematic single-use plastic items by 46% and reduced the amount of packaging on supermarket shelves by 10% in the period 2018-2020.
  • Recycled content has doubled in two years through Pact action, saving 140,000 tonnes of CO2e.
  • Although in 2021 we’ve seen substantial roll-out of front-of-store collections and investments in recycling plants, much more action is needed to deliver a step change in the proportion of plastic packaging that is recyclable – still sitting at 65%, raising to 70% when including reusable plastic packaging.
  • 70% reduction in components that make packaging hard to recycle such as PVC sleeves.
  • The UK Plastics Pact Annual Report video here.

The UK Plastics Pact’s third annual report, published today by global NGO WRAP, shows good collective progress against the UK Plastics Pact’s four ambitious environmental targets - year on year, while further action is required to scale the recycling of plastic bags and wrapping.

A key achievement since its launch in 2018 has been a consistent and significant reduction in consumer plastic packaging by brands and retailers. Comparing data for members that have reported each year, there has been a 10% drop in plastic packaging on supermarket shelves, with problematic and unnecessary plastic items falling by 46% since 2018. This 10% reduction equates to a CO2e reduction of 335,000t - equivalent to taking 150,000 cars off the road since the Pact began.

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

“I believe this work should inspire us when we think about the enormous efforts needed to tackle climate change, and how innovation and experimentation can drive forward action through strong public-private partnerships. The results of real-life reuse and refill trials carried out under the Pact are extremely exciting for how we could shop packaging-free in the future. We see a 50% growth in plastics reprocessing in the UK, which is a massive improvement and Recycle Week marked a record high in terms of the numbers of people recycling – helping complete the cycle of plastics to keep them in the economy and out of the environment. But as COP26 made clear, we have a long way to go and little time to make big changes.”

Today’s report also highlights a number of key developments during the last twelve months. Innovations in recycling plastic bags and wrapping through increased front of store collections are beginning to offer the opportunity to scale up the collection and recycling of these challenging materials, crucial to hit the Pact’s recycling target. WRAP, which published the industry best practice guidance on front of store collections in 2021, is urging more supermarkets to implement collections to increase the number of citizens using collection points ahead of future kerbside collections. The charity has also raised concerns that further investment from industry for critical UK recycling infrastructure is required, particularly for plastic bags and wrapping.

Through the actions of The UK Plastics Pact, WRAP is also pushing forward a drive to increase trials for reuse and refill operations.  Sharing the resulting evidence will help members expand these models to become a behavioural norm for millions more shoppers across the UK, in the years to come.

The results of the annual report also highlight the doubling of the amount of recycled content in packaging to 18% since 2018. This reduces the pressure put on natural resources, helping to keep oil in the ground and mitigate global warming. The results show more than one million barrels of virgin oil have been saved through recycled content use. WRAP says this progress puts Pact members on track to hit 30% average recycled content by 2025 but warns that it is imperative we continue to get high quality recycled material for reprocessing. And that improving material quality through designing for recyclability and increasing the amount of plastic packaging recycled and collected, is as crucial as ever.

Jo Churchill, Resources and Waste Minister, “The UK Plastics Pact is creating a real sea change and shows how businesses are rising to the challenge of cutting their use of plastic and increasing recycling. But there is more we must do – and that is why we are consulting on banning a range of further single-use plastics and, through our exciting new Environment Act, we will make manufacturers more responsible for their packaging. With strong action from government and businesses, we can drastically reduce waste, make better use of our resources and protect our natural environment.”


Notes to Editor

2020 UK Plastics Pact annual report at a glance

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

  • UK Plastics Pact members have reduced problematic single-use plastic items by 46% and reduced the amount of packaging on supermarket shelves by 10% since 2018.That is a 335kt CO2e reduction and equivalent to taking 150,000 cars off the road. The most significant reduction happened in PVC packaging, a major contaminant to the recycling system, which fell by more than 80% since 2018. More action is required to eliminate polystyrene as well as remove more unnecessary plastic while ensuring we do not simply switch to materials with different environmental consequences.
    • Target one in action: Morrisons announced the removal of plastic bags from bananas. Once rolled out this will reduce unnecessary plastic by 180 tonnes, that’s 45 million bags each year. Sainsbury’s removed plastic film from its ‘By Sainsbury’s’ broccoli saving 49 tonnes of plastic per year. It has also removed lids from own brand cream pots saving 106 tonnes of plastic annually. Nestlé UK & Ireland has redesigned its confectionery sharing bags to use significantly less packaging. Narrower pouches for its brands including Milkybar, Aero Bubbles, Munchies, Rolo, Yorkie, and Rowntree’s Randoms will save 83 tonnes of plastic, the equivalent in area to 131 football pitches.

Target 2 – 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.

  • 2020 data show 70% of plastic packaging is reusable (5%) or recyclable (65%). Packaging design is significantly improving. We have seen a 70% drop in the number of packs with components that make them hard to recycle. While there have been positive developments in recycling of plastic bags and wrapping over the last twelve months, it is not yet at the scale required. A significant scaling up will be needed nationally if the Pact is to hit its targets. That means increasing the number of supermarket collection points and the use of them by citizens, investment from industry in the necessary sorting and recycling infrastructure and importantly, specifying recycled content in products and packaging derived from used consumer plastic bags and wrapping.
    • Target two in action: Heinz is to introduce a new cap for tomato ketchup which sees the removal of silicone valves which are a contaminant to the recycling system. The new caps will be rolled out in 2022. PepsiCo and Britvic have moved 7UP from green to clear plastic bottles. The move will significantly improve the value of the material and enable the bottles to be recycled back into new bottles. Asda, working in partnership with many partners including Unilever, has added more than 50 new product lines to its refill trial and extended the trial to more stores including in York and Glasgow, with Milton Keynes to follow. Tesco, Co-op and Sainsbury’s now offer national collection points for flexible plastic collections. Aldi Stores Ltd, Asda, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons and Waitrose & Partners are all piloting similar collections, and the number of collection points are anticipated to reach more than 6,000 in January 2022.

Target 3 – 70% of plastics packaging effectively recycled or composted.

  • The amount of plastic packaging recycled has increased from 44% to 52% in 2020. Recent data show UK citizens are more engaged in recycling than ever before with nearly 9 in 10 people regularly recycling. And UK processing of plastics has grown by nearly 50% in the last 5 years, which WRAP expects to continue to rise. More than 1.5 million additional households are able to recycle a wider range of plastic packaging since 2018.
  • Target three in action: Renew ELP is building a facility in Teesside to process flexible plastic packaging using a hydrothermal plastic recycling technology – HydroPRS™. The process can recycle all types of plastic bags and wrapping into food contact recyclate. The first 20,000 tonnes per year line is expected to be operational in 2022 and once fully operational the plant will be able to recycle 80,000 tonnes per year. We have also seen encouraging infrastructure and investment announcements from Viridor with their Avonmouth Polymer Reprocessing Facility which will put 60,000 tonnes of recycled plastic from multiple polymers back into the economy every year as a viable and quality alternative to virgin plastic. Jayplas has announced plans to build a 150,000 tonnes per year capacity plastics recycling plant in Wales and Nestlé UK and Ireland has partnered with a new recycling firm, Yes Recycling, in Fife, Scotland with the capacity to process 15,000 tonnes of all types of flexible plastics. Morrisons has also invested in the Yes Recycling recycling facility.

Target 4 - 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging.

  • Since 2018 the amount of recycled packaging has doubled helping to preserve the earth’s natural resources and keep oil in the ground. This has saved more than one million barrels of virgin oil production and 140,000 tonnes of CO2e.
  • Target four in action: Mondelez is repackaging its Cadbury Dairy Milk sharing bars into recycled plastic packaging. The new packs, which contain up to 30% recycled plastic, will be rolled out across more than 28 million sharing bars in 2022. Unilever has redesigned its Persil bottles to incorporate 50% recycled content while also removing the dosing ball provided with every bottle, all of which reduce the amount of virgin plastic in Persil bottles by more than 1,000 tonnes annually.

Notes to editors

  • The UK Plastics Pact is the first such initiative in the world working to create a circular economy for plastics. It brings together businesses from across the entire plastics value chain with UK governments and NGOs to tackle plastic waste. Through joining The UK Plastics Pact, WRAP can support your business in embedding the Pact’s targets into your business strategies. WRAP welcomes new members all the time, from clothing retail to DIY and the built environment; come and join us and play your part in creating a circular economy for plastics.
  • The impact and success of the UK Plastics Pact has been felt globally with Plastics Pacts now on every populated continent on the planet, covering millions of miles of coastline, millions of tonnes of plastic, and billions of people. The number of Pacts is growing, with the current total at 12; these Pacts sit under or are aligned with The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Plastics Pact network, all working towards a circular economy for plastics. The newest Pacts to join the map are:
  • Read The UK Plastics Pact 2020 Annual Report here
  • Watch The UK Plastics Pact Annual Report video here
  • WRAP is a global NGO based in the UK. It is one of the UK’s top 5 environmental charities and works with governments, businesses and individuals to ensure that the world’s natural resources are used more sustainably. It is the charity leading The UK Plastics Pact (a world first), Courtauld Commitment 2030, Textiles 2030 as well as the citizen campaigns Love Food Hate Waste, Love Your Clothes, Clear on Plastics and Recycle Now. WRAP works collaboratively and develops and delivers evidence-based, solutions to reduce the environmental cost of the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the plastic packaging we use. Founded in 2000 in the UK, WRAP now works around the world and is a Global Alliance Partner of The Royal Foundation’s Earthshot Prize.