Packaging industry calls for policy reform to boost plastics recycling

A host of UK packaging organisations have called for more recycling collection points, tax reliefs for recycled content and a universal list of acceptable materials as part of a desired regulation reform to make it easier for consumers to recycle packaging waste.

The group, which includes WRAP, the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) and Defra’s Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP), published its list of agreed recommendations last week, including the call for an introduction of a universal list telling brands what is and what is not deemed recyclable. According to the group, this would allow packaging to be labelled “more clearly and consistently” for the benefit of consumers.

Another headline recommendation is uniform recycling collections across all local authorities in the UK, which the group claims will enable the reuse of waste streams and encourage higher plastic recycling rates than the current proportion of just 38% nationwide.

The recommendation report was published following discussion with environment secretary Michael Gove, in December last year. Responding to the list of recommendations, which additionally includes a call for the government to consider measures such as virgin material taxes and tax relief on recycled plastics to create markets for secondary materials, Gove said in a letter that his team are developing “specific models” for a packaging-extended producer responsibility scheme, which will be discussed in Parliament later this year alongside the team’s deposit return scheme (DRS) proposals.

“We were delighted with the rich and fruitful discussions across the whole packaging chain and the participants’ genuine commitment to radical reform,” WRAP’s chief executive Marcus Glover said. “The Secretary of State’s response is very encouraging, and I am particularly pleased to see his commitment to accelerating the move to uniform recycling collections, as this supports a key area of work for WRAP.”

The trio of packaging specialists are additionally calling on the government to introduce stronger compliance monitoring and enforcement by the Environment Agency in a bid to eliminate contaminated plastics from packaging and require packaging producers to do more to encourage consumers to recycle. Their list of recommendations concludes with a suggestion that the government should appoint an independent arbiter to enable the sanctions.

Cross-sector discussions

The list of packaging reform recommendations were the result of discussions between more than 170 organisations, including big-name supermarkets like Waitrose, Aldi, Asda and Iceland; drinks companies such as Coca-Cola, Britvic and Nestle; food retailers like Pret A Manger and McDonalds; several local authorities and a handful of NGOs including Greenpeace.

Many of these companies have already signed up to WRAP’s government-backed Plastics Pact, which provides its signatories with an ongoing target of making their plastic packaging 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable in a bid to “eliminate unnecessary plastic waste”.

Since the start of the year, both the UK Government and the European Union (EU) have unveiled sweeping strategies that aim to phase-out use of certain types of plastic by 2030 – for the EU – and 2042 for the UK. This came hot off the heels of a decision to consult on a nationwide deposit return scheme for plastic containers and more recently, the government announced its ambitions to “eliminate” single-use plastics from Parliament by 2019.

Following the announcement of the reform recommendations, Glover added that the government’s ability to alter packaging policy and therefore underpin the commitments made by business so far will be “key” to WRAP achieving the aims of its Plastics Pact.

Sarah George & Matt Mace

Comments (1)

  1. Rod Fox says:

    It is hard to believe that DEFRA, the plastics, packaging and fillers sectors plus the supermarkets and the media are still blind about how to recycle plastic packaging waste. Plastic has served everybody extremely well for many years by protecting what we buy and keeping food fresh. The main fault is that too little has been done to ensure it offers whole life performance by making sure it is recycled. The traditional ways to recycle plastic are also at fault, you only have to see how failure after failure has occurred including some of the largest organisations. The reason for this is simple – each time plastics are recycled they degrade in terms of their physical performance, thus after a few times trying to make more short service life packaging to include percentages of recycled plastics the products will fail to be good enough in quality and thus have to be consigned to landfill or waste to energy. There is a proven alternative which for nearly 50 years has been able to use mixed plastic packaging waste to manufacture initially simple products in the form of fencing, bollards and park benches, but for 20 years has been used to make heavy-duty products in the form of rail sleepers, marine pilings and boards to construct groynes and hold out the promise to make utility and cable poles in place of the now banned creosote used to preserve softwood poles. Using mainly polyolefins (LDPE, HDPE and PP) the largest single type of polymers used to make films, containers, pots, tubs, trays and where necessary for performance reinforcing these with glass fibre structurally engineered composite products are set to replace the use of tropical hardwoods, certain concrete products and being inert safe to use as a low cost replacement where creosote has traditionally been used. These composite are extremely durable, as already acknowledged when statements are made about that plastics in our oceans will remain for hundreds of years, but in this case after 50-100 years can be recycled and provide exceptional whole life performance whilst reducing destruction of tropical rain forests and offering a significant means of carbon capture. What is more the material is already here in the UK ready to be exploited rather buried or destroyed inefficiently in an incinerator.

    Rod Fox, M.D.
    Revaluetech Ltd.

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