Defra relaxes plastic packaging targets ‘to reduce burden on businesses’

The Government has announced plans to relax statutory plastic packaging recycling targets in an apparent attempt to 'reduce the burden' on business, with research showing that, despite 'significant increases' in recycling, the industry could struggle to hit 2020 targets.

Deep within the raft of policy changes detailed in last week’s 2016 Budget, the Government notes that plastic packaging recycling targets will fall from 52% to 49% for 2016, before receiving an incremental 2% increase each year until a 57% target is set in 2020.

When asked by edie why this ammendment has been made, a spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “These changes are in line with our programme of reforms that will lead to smarter, more proportionate and effective regulation for the industry. This will allow businesses to focus on growing productivity while making it easier for regulators to crackdown on those who flout the law.”

The Government’s attempt to ease the pressure of plastic recycling for businesses reflects new research from WRAP’s Plastics Market Situation Report, which suggests that plastic packaging recycling rates for 2015 reached just 40%. (Scroll down for full report). 

Despite a growth in plastic packaging recycling of more than 50% since 2009 – and the recycling industry and supply chains showing ‘significant improvements’ in creating a circular economy for plastics – the report outlines that reaching EU recycling targets of 55% by 2025 remains a key challenge.

WRAP – which had previously unveiled a roadmap to hitting the 57% target – revealed that 891,000 tonnes of the 2.2m tonnes of plastic packaging produced annually in the UK was recycled. Plastic packaging reprocessing has almost doubled since 2010, however exports of recovered plastic packaging have a slower growth of just over one-third in that timeframe.


The report revealed that the main issue for plastic recyclers is their vulnerability to market changes, although the correlation between plastic and oil pricing has been dismissed due to their position in the middle of supply chains. Recyclers are apparently ‘feeling the squeeze’ from both sides of the supply chain.

WRAP’s director Marcus Gover said: “This report provides much needed clarity to some of the challenges the sector has faced recently as well as confidence on where to invest next. Plastic recyclers don’t have to wait for oil prices to rise again.

“There are markets out there that will work that aren’t linked to oil prices. It’s about keeping costs low, not overreaching and identifying an end product to sell the reprocessed materials into.”

Under the microscope

The research into plastic packaging comes during the same week that the Environmental Audit Committee launched a call for evidence on the environmental impact of microplastics.

Commonly used in exfoliating and personal care products, microbeads have played a big role in the ‘plastic pollution’ occurring in oceans. The Committee is calling for evidence by 15 April on a range of microplastic issues such as marine wildlife impacts and human health consequences to the continuous use of them in products.

Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh said: “Microplastic beads are used in industrial processes and body care products. Their tiny size means they can end up flushed into the sea and enter the food chain. We will be looking at the health consequences of eating fish containing microplastics and the extent of the damage to our eco-systems.”

Scientists from the College of Science at Oregon State University believe that eight million of these microbeads are emitted into aquatic habitats each day, with a further 800 trillion leaking into streams through the surface run off caused by sewage sludge and have called for an outright ban of the material.

Plastics Market Situation Report

Matt Mace

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