With a UK target of 70% of plastic packaging being recycled or composted by 2025, the challenges and opportunities are evident. To put this in context, with an estimated 1,412,000 tonnes of household plastic packaging placed on the market in 2020, to collect 70% of household plastic packaging there would need to be around 990,000 tonnes collected for recycling, which would need an increase of around 400,000 tonnes.
The 2021 Survey estimates 75% of PET drinks bottles and 78% of natural HDPE milk bottles are collected for recycling, but this needs to increase and set the bar higher as they outperform collection rates for all other plastic packaging formats. The collection rates for the other formats are 45% for non-drinks bottles, 36% for plastic pots, tubs and trays, and 4% for plastic film. This is an overall collection rate for household plastic packaging of 41%.
In 2020 and 2021, the UK Government has continued to pursue its commitments to the circular economy and positive environmental changes through policy and legislation. The future of the UK’s waste and recycling system, in terms of its aims, how it’s governed, managed, funded, and delivered, is all being played out in a complex and diverse set of potentially high impact policies.
These include the reform of the UK's Packaging Producer Responsibility System, otherwise known as Extended Producer Responsibility; Consistency in Household and Business Recycling in England; implementation of Deposit Return Schemes across each UK nation; HMRC’s UK Plastic Packaging Tax; and bans or restrictions on Single-Use Plastics. All of these will directly affect the future performance of the UK’s plastic packaging recycling rates.
Steve Morgan, Head of Policy and Infrastructure at RECOUP, commented: “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.”
As the UK looks ahead to navigating its way through the many aspects of policy, strategy and development, evidence and the context in which it is presented should be central as we navigate this time of change to engage with policymakers and contribute to well-informed policy for the future. RECOUP continues to provide both evidence and context in the 2021 Survey report to assess how plastics recycling in the UK is performing and where the efforts need to be placed to achieve the results we all want to see.