Plastic packaging collection rate up 2%, RECOUP finds

The overall collection rate for household plastic packaging grew by 2% to 41% in 2021, according to a survey from the plastics recycling charity RECOUP.

The 2021 survey estimates that 75% of PET drinks and 78% of natural HDPE milk bottles were collected for recycling in 2021

In its 2021 UK Household Plastics Collection Survey, published today (24 November), the membership-based charity estimated that 584,000 tonnes of household plastic packaging was collected for recycling.

This was an increase of 24,000 tonnes or 4% in collection quantities compared to 2019. Overall, the collection rate for household plastic packaging was 41%.

The 2021 Survey estimates that 75% of PET drinks bottles and 78% of natural HDPE milk bottles were collected for recycling in 2021.

The research warns that “this needs to increase”, and the “bar needs to be higher”, as the material outperforms collection rates for all other plastic packaging.

Collection rates for the other items were 45% for non-drinks bottles, 36% for plastic pots, tubs and trays, and just 4% for plastic film.

2020 survey

In the 2020 survey, RECOUP said that changes to UK citizens’ lifestyles during the Covid-19 pandemic led to a “significant rise” in plastics recycling rates (see letsrecycle.com story).

It also showed that the recycling rate in the UK grew by just 2% to 39% between April 2019 and March 2020, showing that before the pandemic, citizens were still “failing to engage” with the recycling message.

It added that this began to change when lockdown restrictions imposed in March altered citizens’ lifestyles. The group said this was likely to lead to a “significant” increase in the plastics recycling rate from household collections. The latest survey covered the 2021 calendar year to date, and the full data will be published in three months times.

Challenges

With the UK’s 2025 plastic packaging recycling target set at 70%, RECOUP added that the “challenges and opportunities are evident”.

The charity explained that with an estimated 1,412,000 tonnes of household plastic packaging placed on the market in 2020, to reach the 70% target, there would need to be around 990,000 tonnes collected for recycling.

This means that the current figure needs to increase by around 400,000 tonnes.

It is crunch time for both decision-makers and industry.

– Steve Morgan, head of policy and infrastructure at RECOUP

‘Crunch time’

Steve Morgan, head of policy and infrastructure at RECOUP, said that it is “crunch time” for the government and the waste industry to ensure that recycling targets are met.

He explained: “There are a multitude of varied high impact policies floating around and they’re going to come together at different times and provide different dynamics. Like a whirlpool, they’re going to be thrown together, probably at speed, and how they settle will direct the capability of the UK to manage our waste and recycling systems, possibly for a generation.

“It is crunch time for both decision-makers and industry to ensure that the policies can be implemented on time and effectively, in order to meet the UK’s environmental goals and maintain public support.”

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