Businesses commit to phase-out eight ‘problem plastics’ by 2020

Companies signed up to the UK Plastic Pact have committed to removing eight "problem plastics" by 2020, including cutlery, cotton buds and polystyrene packaging, but the decision has sparked calls that self-regulated efforts won't be sufficient enough to avert plastics pollution.

Businesses commit to phase-out eight ‘problem plastics’ by 2020

WRAP claimed that the move aligns with the UK Government’s ban on items such as straws

According to a new progress report from WRAP, plastic cutlery, cotton buds, stirrers, polystyrene packaging, oxo-degradables, straws and PVC packaging are the eight items that should be eliminated by 2020.

Now, members of the UK Plastics Pact, are taking the first steps towards their commitments by phasing out the use of the items.

WRAP director Peter Maddox said: “We know that more people than ever are concerned about the impact of plastics. The fundamental way industry can support this public desire is by addressing the issues that lead to plastic packaging being problematic.

“So, for every item of packaging, we need to consider whether plastic is the right material choice, or indeed if packaging is required at all. In many cases, plastic may be the best material choice from an environmental perspective. In these cases, we need to ensure that the plastic can be and is recycled. The items listed today are priorities for UK Plastics Pact members, and the onus is on those members to implement changes, urgently.”

Launched by not-for-profit WRAP, the UK Plastics Pact purported to be the first commitment of its kind, uniting corporates across the plastic value chain in a bid to improve recyclability, champion reuse and foster plastic-free innovations.

Its original 42 members, which include the likes of  Nestlé, Marks & Spencer (M&S), Unilever, Procter & Gamble (P&G) and PepsiCo, were responsible for more than 80% of the plastic packaging on products sold in UK supermarkets at the time of its launch.

Since then, the initiative has grown to reach 127 members, garnering support from waste management firms, local authorities, universities and SMEs alongside the founding food and drinks and consumer goods giants.

Under the pact, signatories make four main commitments for 2025: eliminating unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign; making all plastic packaging 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable; achieving recycling and composting rates of 70% or more for packaging, and including 30% recycled content across all packaging.

— Click here to see how the Plastics Pact has performed, one year on —

Failed system

WRAP claimed that the move aligns with the UK Government’s ban on items such as straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds and the European Union’s Single Use Plastic Directive.

An action group of UK Plastics Pact members defined the problem plastics as “single-use plastic items where consumption could be avoided through elimination, reuse or replacement and items that, post-consumption, commonly do not enter recycling and composting systems, or where they do, are not recycled due to their format, composition or size”.

The eight problem plastics are followed by a secondary list of 19 items to be “actively investigated” by members, with an aim in place to either avoid, re-design, reuse, recycle or compost them by 2025.

The secondary list includes plastic bags, plastic film packaging, multi-pack rings, vegetable and fruit bags, secondary wrapping around multi-packs and PVC cling film. Plastic bottle tops and caps, single-use bottles, non-recyclable coloured plastics, fruit and vegetable punnets, internal plastic trays, single-use plastic cups and lids and teabags are also on the list.

The report has been met with criticism by some MPs, with deputy leader of the Green Party, Amelia Womack, claiming that a self-regulation model had “failed” and that Government would need to intervene with “strong action”.

“Companies produce and sell about 76 kilogrammes of plastic that goes to waste each year in the UK for every women, man and child in the country,” Womack said.

“Today’s response from industry and retailers is wholly, ridiculously, inadequate and doesn’t address public concern on plastics or effectively protect the environment. Again and again the model of self-regulation has failed. This is one more area in which the government needs to step in with strong action.”

Matt Mace

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