4 May 2021 by Robyn White

Study finds packaging ‘less recyclable’ in UK

A study carried out by consumer research company Which? has found that 32% of brand packaging in the UK is not “easily recyclable in practice”.  

The study compared 11 household products across nine countries, with Pringles the ‘least recyclable product’

The study called ‘The Consumer Lens on Packaging 2021’ was commissioned by Consumers International, the membership organisation for consumer groups around the world.

It compared 11 household products across nine countries and found the UK lagged behind the likes of Honk Kong, Portugal, Australia and India in terms of packaging which wasn’t easily recyclable, but ahead of Malaysia, France New Zealand and Brazil.

The investigation deemed a product to be recyclable if the countries had suitable collection, sorting and recycling systems to allow consumers to actually recycle the packaging, as well as the quality of labelling on packaging.

The 11 household products, detailed in the table below, were chosen as the same or similar product was widely available in all nine countries.

They are produced by eight of the 30 largest global food and beverage companies in terms of revenue in 2020.


Which? said that in the UK, despite the consumer being willing to recycle, on average 32% of the packaging weight across the 11 products is not easily recyclable in practice. Which? notes “in almost every case it was plastic packaging
that could not be easily recyclable in practice”.

It found a lack of clarity was a key barrier to consumers. Labelling was also a barrier to ease of recycling. The report specifically mentioned Toblerone packaging, which despite being recyclable, “the labelling did not indicate this presenting a barrier for the consumer”.


The report compiled by Which? says no product was labelled clearly across all nine countries. In some cases, “when the packaging is recyclable, the labelling did not provide that information”.

The least recyclable products across all nine countries were Pringles (84%), M&M’s peanut chocolate (67%) and Kit Kat (64%), which had the highest average percentage of packaging weight that could not be recycled.

The most recyclable products were Coca-Cola’s can pack (2%), Nescafé Original Jar (12%) and Nutella Hazelnut Spread with Cocoa (16%), which had the lowest average percentage of packaging weight that could not be easily recycled.

‘Lagging behind’

Michael Briggs, head of sustainability at Which?, said: “We know UK consumers want packaging that is easy to recycle, and while many types of packaging can be recycled in household collections, the UK is lagging behind some other countries when it comes to packaging recyclability.

“As a first step the government should make recycling labels on grocery packaging mandatory, simple and clear”

Michael Briggs, Which?

“Manufacturers must do more to ensure their packaging can be easily recycled, but as a first step the government should make recycling labels on grocery packaging mandatory, simple and clear – enabling shoppers to know exactly how to dispose of packaging on the products they use.”

Useful links
The Consumer Lens on Packaging 2021


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