Film fears overshadow Plastics Pact success

The government-backed resources charity WRAP today (30 November) announced that its 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.

Soft plastic collection points are being rolled out, such as at Tesco, but more are needed, says WRAP chief Marcus Gover

Despite the single-use reduction, however, concerns remain over plastic film recycling and WRAP chief executive Marcus Gover warned about the threat of not recycling enough film and soft plastics.

He declared: “I remain concerned that if we don’t seriously up the pace on tackling plastic bags and wrapping – reducing it where possible, recycling it where needed – then it threatens to derail our ambition. We need to see prominent collection points become the norm for shoppers.”

The success and challenges come in the Pact’s third annual report, published today.

Recycled content

In the report WRAP said that recycled content has doubled in two years through Pact action, saving 140,000 tonnes of CO2e. But, it noted that although in 2021 there has been “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.”

The UK Plastics Pact Annual Report video can be seen below.

WRAP said that 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.”

Pollution

Dr Gover said: “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.

Marcus Gover has warned of the need to increase film and soft plastic recycling

“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.”

Innovation

The report also highlights a number of key developments during the last twelve months. It says that 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.

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