Report: Consumer demand for recycled packaging outpacing corporate action

More than half (55%) of the UK population believe that all plastic bottles should contain at least 50% recycled content, while the average proportion used by corporates currently stands at just 15%.

That is the key conclusion of a joint survey by waste management firm Veolia and not-for-profit RECOUP, which claims that there is “an indisputable gap” between the recycled content which consumers expect to be in plastic products and the reality.

Produced after a survey of 2,000 members of the general public, the report states that 93% of consumers believe that all plastic bottles should contain some recycled content, with consumers willing to pay an average of 2.5p more for a product housed in recycled packaging. It additionally reveals that 57% of consumers believe that all bottles contain at least 50% recycled plastic already. 

The report, entitled Plan For Plastics and published today (20 September), outlines three ways in which Veolia and RECOUP believe the UK can “turn plastic into an environmental success story” by recapturing waste streams for recycling or reuse.

The first recommendation is a call to the recycling industry to confirm and implement a “precise” labelling system for product recyclability. The second is for the range of polymers used in packaging to be standardised so that all products are “recyclable by design”.

Lastly, the report recommends that corporates should move to increase the use of recycled content in the manufacturing of new products, and states that a tax on “poorly-designed” packaging coupled with a reformed Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) system would encourage this.

“The British public have told us they expect plastic bottles to be made of recycled content, and we see 50% recycled content for plastic bottles and 30% for plastic packaging as realistic ambitions for every manufacturer to aim for within the next 10 years,” Veolia’s chief technology and innovation officer Richard Kirkman said.

“When more packaging is both recyclable and made from recycled material, it will be the shift needed for recycled plastic to become mainstream. We owe it to future generations to make circular and sustainable living this country’s priority.”

The publication of the report comes shortly after an unprecedented number of respondents to a UK Government consultation examining plastic waste called for tax reforms to help companies move away from cradle-to-grave models for plastic use.

Call to action

The report comes at a time when Veolia is set to begin the first phase of its five-year plan of investing £1bn in recycling infrastructure, with the company using the publication as a platform to urge designers, manufacturers and Government to match its efforts.

Similarly, waste and resource management firm SUEZ recently released a new blueprint recommending that the Government should extend its existing Producer Responsibility Obligation (PRO) framework and raise the cost of PRNs to accelerate the shift to a circular economy. Currently, PRNs cost around €20 per tonne in the UK, while other European nations have an average cost of around €150 per tonne. 

However, corporates have been warned not to make “knee-jerk reactions” to consumer demands on plastics, with Committee on Climate Change (CCC) chairman Lord Deben warning that companies rushing alternatives to markets could suffer from unintended consequences in the future.

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie