13 November 2023
UK Plastics Pact latest report demonstrates how important public/private partnerships are in delivering fast impact ahead of Global Plastic Treaty negotiations.
- Public/private partnership models, like The UK Plastics Pact, must be in the DNA of the Global Plastics Treaty, alongside binding regulatory measures, if it is to achieve its enormous task, says WRAP.
- 99% of problematic single-use plastic items eliminated in UK - household plastic packaging slashed by same weight as 440 male blue whales.
- 71% of plastic packaging is now recyclable as UK routinely designs-out hard-to-recycle plastics like black ready meal trays.
- 55% of plastic packaging is recycled, with the amount of materials reprocessed in the UK increasing by 61% since 2018.
- Recycled content has tripled since 2018.
- Changes to plastic packaging, including the increase in recycled content, has cut carbon emissions by 10.5%.
As negotiations resume around the structure and focus of a Global Treaty to end plastic pollution (including in the marine environment), international climate action NGO WRAP has sent a delegation to Nairobi armed with a five-year evaluation of impacts under the UK Plastics Pact.
The report shows that strong progress has been made by UK businesses in tackling plastic waste under The UK Plastics Pact ahead of government policies, however, regulation is critical to hitting all the targets and this will not happen in time for the 2025 deadline. The lack of widespread collection, sorting and recycling of plastic bags and wrapping remains the key issue, which requires extended producer responsibility (EPR), mandatory collection and reform to the plastics packaging tax to enable output from non-mechanical recycling to ‘count’ as recyclate. Public/private agreements, such as The UK Plastics Pact enables industry to get ahead of regulation and take the urgent action that the planet needs, but regulation will also be required for a successful Global Treaty.
Growing from 40 members at its launch in 2018 to nearly 200 by 2022, The UK Plastics Pact was the first of a now international network of 14 national and regional Pacts operating in every continent, together with national partners and WRAP.
In the UK, through five years of work with business and other stakeholders, transformation has occurred to the UK’s relationship with plastics. In that short time, nearly all (99%) of items identified as problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic have been eliminated from sale by Pact members and total household plastic packaging has fallen by 8% by weight. Recycled content has tripled and contributed to a 10.5% carbon reduction in the plastics footprint. More than 70% of household plastic packaging can now be recycled when placed in the recycling, with recycling rates for plastics estimated at 55% in 2022. Furthermore, the amount of plastic recycled on home soil rather than shipped overseas has increased from 37% in 2018 to 54% in 2022. However, many stubborn problems remain, needing Government regulation.
Harriet Lamb, CEO, WRAP “We are proud to be at the forefront of driving global change on plastic pollution. Public-private partnerships like The UK Plastics Pact show just what’s achievable through collaboration. We believe passionately that these models deliver big changes – fast. It also shows the key role regulation must also play. The challenge ahead is huge, but so too are the opportunities to benefit from a circular economy for plastics and improve the situation for people affected by plastic waste around the world. The network of Plastics Pacts around the world are blueprints which can be replicated and scaled to tackle plastics pollution.”
The UK Plastic Pact annual report shows: -
Target one - eliminating of problematic plastics – A target that’s driven change from the start with a huge 99% reduction in single-use problematic and unnecessary plastic items. Members moved faster than regulation in the complete removal of items such as plastic straws, cutlery, plates and bowls, with more items on the way. WRAP has seen a 55% reduction in polystyrene and PVC and an 8% reduction in primary plastic packaging.
- PepsiCo UK & Ireland has trialled new multipack packaging for the Snack A Jacks range, made possible due to a £2 million investment in new equipment. Packs on shelves in Tesco stores use 86% less plastic on their outer packaging when compared with the previous multipack design.
Target two - 100% of plastics reusable or recyclable – 71% of all plastic packaging placed on the UK market by Pact members is now recyclable, an increase of 5% since 2018 – an additional 7,000 tonnes each year. 73% is recyclable or reusable. Plastic bags and wrapping are currently only collected by 5% of local authorities. Had household collections for plastic bags and wrapping been rolled out by Govt as originally expected when the targets were set, 87% of primary plastic packaging would now be classified as recyclable under Target 2.
- Danone has removed the label from its Actimel concentrated shot to reduce plastic use and improve the recyclability of the bottle. Since August, Danone's new iconic Actimel bottle has been appearing on store shelves. Gone is the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) label that surrounds the flexible bottle, replaced by a container in which the brand name, vitamins and allergens are embossed directly onto the bottle. This will save approximately 135 tonnes of plastic per year.*1
- Re-use: In 2022 approximately 3,340 tonnes of reusable primary packaging were reported by members and 26,400 of reusable transit packaging. Moving from pilots to scaled re-use and refill systems is paramount and WRAP urges Pact members to make the move to reusable and refillable packaging. WRAP is producing a Roadmap on reusable packaging to deliver mainstream, scaled reuse across the UK market.
Target Three – boosting plastic recycling to 70% - In the UK it is estimated that 55% of plastic packaging is now recycled, with 54% of this material recycled in the UK rather than abroad. This is up significantly from 37% in 2018 due to an increase in new capacity and investment in new facilities, coupled with reducing export markets.
- Berry Global opened a new facility reprocessing polypropylene (PP) with approval for use in food grade products in the US, with an application also in process for the UK. The facility produces food-grade materials with a target purity standard of 99.9% ready to be processed back into consumer packaging. It could pave the way for the future of PP packaging recycling by using innovative technologies to successfully and accurately separate food grade PP containers, tubs and trays.
Target 4 - increasing recycled content to 30% - Recycled content has increased to 24.1%, up from 8.5%. By working to increase recycled content and changes in plastics and packaging design between 2018 and 2022 UK Plastics Pact members are estimated to have delivered a 10.5% reduction in the carbon impact per tonne of plastic packaging. WRAP continues to work with industry to overcome the challenges that remain in increasing recycled content.
- Faerch and Tesco have collaborated and launched an initiative which will mean PET pots, tubs and trays collected form kerbside will be recycled and turned back into food grade plastic trays – creating a fully circular packaging solution for the Tesco range of core chilled ready meals. Although a new initiative, a minimum of 30% recycled tray content will be included in the new packaging. The collaboration will ensure that high quality food-grade PET is kept within the supply chain and demonstrates that PET packaging from trays can be fully recovered and recycled at an industrial scale.
Considering the tough last few years with impacts from COVID, the economy and with continued uncertainties and delays to key policy mechanisms, companies who are members of the UK Plastics Pact member have nevertheless continued to take steps forward towards a more circular economy for plastics. With progress still to be made across all targets, WRAP urges companies to continue to push the limits of what they can achieve.
Harriet Lamb, “Looking to the future, we’re working with partners around the world to promote a legally binding, high-ambition Global Plastics Treaty that addresses the entire lifecycle of plastics and prioritises reduction, elimination, and reuse. The model of public-private partnerships can also be part of helping meet the goals of the Treaty.”
Environment Minister Rt Hon Rebecca Pow, “It’s more important than ever to take action to end plastic pollution, so I am pleased that our work with industry through the UK Plastics Pact is making real change to cut the plastics we all use in our day-to-day lives in the UK. I look forward to agreeing an ambitious Global Plastics Treaty to help bring an end to this pollution on a global scale. The UK is playing a leading role in driving this forward.”
Notes to Editor
- Read the full report
- The recycling rate for plastic packaging is calculated nationally based on how much is reported to be recycled or exported, relative to the amount of plastic packaging placed on the market in the UK. It is provided as an estimate in The UK Plastics Pact report owing to the figures on what is being placed on the market under review and due to be published and confirmed by Defra in May 2024.
- *1 - Saving based on 2024 forecast sales volumes.
- WRAP is a climate action NGO working around the globe to tackle the causes of the climate crisis and give the planet a sustainable future. We believe that our natural resources should not be wasted and that everything we use should be re-used and recycled. We bring together and work with governments, businesses, and individuals to ensure that the world’s natural resources are used more sustainably. Our work includes: UK Plastics Pact, Courtauld Commitment 2030, Textiles 2030 and the campaigns Love Food Hate Waste and Recycle Now. We run Food Waste Action Week and Recycle Week.