1bn single use plastic items to be eliminated by end of 2020

For the first time UK Plastics Pact members have submitted comprehensive data giving a clear indication of progress towards the four targets, as well as where the biggest challenges lie.

The UK Plastics Pact is a unique, collaborative initiative that will 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.

In the first annual report released today, downloadable via a link on the right-hand side of this page, a raft of key insights are revealed including:

  • 1 billion problematic and unnecessary single use plastic items are to be eliminated by the end of 2020.
  • Pact members are over halfway towards making all their packaging recyclable
  • The UK is over half-way towards recycling 70% of plastic packaging
  • Members are a third of the way towards an average of 30% recycled content in their plastic packaging

The report also highlights that complex challenges still remain, including the development of a recycling system for films and flexible packaging.

Plastics Pact infographic

A comprehensive snapshot against the four targets

By 2025, The UK Plastics Pact will transform the UK plastic packaging sector by meeting four world-leading targets which will not only result in a circular economy for plastics, but also a reduction in virgin plastic production. Importantly this will be achieved not solely through increasing the levels of recycled content in packaging and products, but also as a result of refill solutions and moving away from problematic or unnecessary plastics.

The annual report gives a comprehensive snapshot of progress against the collective targets that are aimed at creating a systemic overhaul of the plastics system in the UK.

Key insights for each of the targets include:

Target 1 - Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (re-use) delivery models:

  • Members are set to remove a total of 1.1bn items of problematic and unnecessary single use plastic by the end of 2020, with several items such as straws and cotton buds already eliminated by the majority of members.

  • Supermarkets have already removed 3,400 tonnes of unnecessary plastic packaging from fresh produce – the equivalent of 272 London buses – and 137.5m plastic stickers from fruit and vegetables.

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

  • Recent activity includes the removal of more than 19,000 tonnes of non-recyclable black plastic by supermarkets – the equivalent of 1.5bn ready meal trays.

  • By the end of 2020 all members are aiming to remove 21,000 tonnes of unrecyclable PVC and polystyrene from their packaging.

  • There has also been an increase in reusable packaging, such as the Waitrose ‘Unpacked’ trial stores providing refill stations for dry goods, wine, beer, and detergent refillables.

  • A key challenge will be developing a recycling system for plastic films (e.g. bread bags and crisp packets) which account for 25% of consumer plastic packaging, but only 4% is recycled. This will need to include innovation and investment in advanced recycling processes.

Target 3 - 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted:

  • As a nation we’re currently recycling 44% of our plastic packaging. This is being supported by crucial new investment in UK reprocessing of plastic, including new facilities being announced by waste management giants Viridor and Biffa.

  • All the supermarkets are signed up to the On-Pack Recycling Labelling system and leading brands such as Pepsi, evian, and innocent drinks have enhanced their on-pack recycling labelling, to make it clearer for citizens.

  • All the major supermarkets are helping customers to recycle more by providing plastic recycling collection points in store for stretchy film plastic – such as frozen food bags, carrier bags and bread bags, which normally can’t be recycled from home. 

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

  • In 2018 the average amount of recycled content was 10% across Pact members’ plastic packaging. This is saving more than half a million barrels of oil (more than 90,000 tonnes) in virgin plastic production and is equivalent to more than half a million dolphins in weight.

  • Actions by Pact members include brands launching water bottles using 100% recycled content such as Coca Cola’s Glaceau Smartwater and Highland Spring’s Eco Bottle. Recycled content in personal care and laundry products is also increasing. 

  • A key challenge towards meeting 30% is ensuring there is enough high quality recycled plastic available. This is why improvements in designing packaging for recycling are so important, for example the move by Sprite from green to clear bottles this year.

Plastics Pact infographic

Working collaboratively towards the same goal

Since The UK Plastics Pact launched in April 2018, a number of other countries have followed suit, with The Netherlands and France launching Pacts in the past year. WRAP is also supporting the development and delivery of Plastics Pacts in Chile, Malaysia and South Africa, with more in the pipeline for 2020 and beyond.

Marcus Gover, WRAP CEO, said: “The way that we make, use and dispose of plastic is transforming, and I am proud of the progress that the Pact has made so far. But there is no magic wand – we’re unpicking a highly complex and well-established system and making sure that we don’t simply displace the environmental cost elsewhere. Retaining the valuable role plastic packaging plays, especially in preventing food waste, is crucial. We can’t gamble with the climate in our desire to tackle plastic pollution.

“Our Pact members have shown that they’re committed to this challenge and our new report demonstrates the breadth of action so far on tackling plastic waste. These aren’t token gestures – changes like these require a huge amount of investment and innovation. It shows that our members are working collaboratively towards the same goal.    

How we can help

Ecosurety joined the UK Plastics Pact in May 2018 and since then we have helped several organisations identify actions need to take to meet the Pact’s targets by analysing their packaging data. 

It is important to note that this service is not exclusively for Pact members, we are able to assist any producer who can benefit from data insights to reduce their environmental impact. Contact our team to find out how we can help your organisation.

Last month we also launched the Ecosurety Exploration Fund which is seeking projects that can reduce the environmental impact of packaging, batteries and WEEE through innovation and research. This of course includes new innovation or research that can reduce the impact of plastic packaging.

Applicants have until 10 March 2020 to apply for up to £150k, with the winning projects selected by an industry leading independent judging panel that includes Director of WRAP, Peter Maddox. Please click here to find out more about how to apply.

Exploration Fund

Ben Luger

Marketing projects specialist

Ben joined the team at the beginning of 2015 and helps drive marketing communications and projects for Ecosurety, including project managing the launch of the Ecosurety Exploration Fund and website content development.

Written by Ben Luger Published 17/12/2019 Topics Packaging
Get in touch