Is the UK on target to meet its 2025 Plastics Pact?20 Dec 2022
Major food industry players, including Arla, Kerry, PepsiCo and TerraCycle, have signed the UK’s voluntary Plastic Pact to reduce plastic from the supply chain – but are they on track to meet their targets?
In its bid to remove plastic packaging from the supply chain, UK charity, Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) developed the country’s Plastic Pact in 2018.
While 2022 saw the introduction of a plastic packaging tax of £200 per tonne for importers and manufacturers, eyes are now on the country’s anticipated and wider approach for 2023 and beyond as it edges closer to its target year.
The Pact has gathered pledges from WRAP’s members and partners, which feature manufacturers and industry players throughout the plastic value chain, including Arla, Kerry, PepsiCo and TerraCycle.
Moving towards 2025: Where are we in reaching targets?
The UK’s Plastics Pact set out four key targets in 2018 that it aims to reach by 2025. The Pact revolves around eliminating problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign, innovation, or alternative (reuse) delivery models; producing plastic packaging that is reusable, recyclable or compostable; and increasing the amount of plastic content that is recycled or composted.
Firstly, the Pact aims to eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign, innovation, or alternative (reuse) delivery models. Since 2018, it has seen a 46% reduction in problematic and unnecessary plastic items.
Additionally, the charity strives to ensure 100% of plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable, or compostable. At present, 70% of plastic packaging is reusable or recyclable. Further, it aims to achieve a landscape where 70% of plastic packaging is effectively recycled or composted.
Recycling rates have improved
To date, the UK has made improvements to its plastic footprint. Collectively, the value chain has seen changes to packaging design and has lowered the number of plastics that are difficult to recycle, such as flexible packaging like plastic bags and wrapping.
Currently, the amount of plastic packaging that is being recycled is 52%, up from 44% in 2018. Almost 9 in 10 (88%) people say they are regularly recycling, WRAP’s Tracking Report relays. However, opportunities remain to increase recycling capture and reduce contamination by increasing awareness about what can and cannot be recycled. The charity also strives to reach 30% recycled content on average across all plastic packaging. The latest figures show this is 18%, which has doubled from 9% in 2018.
Reducing environmental impact
There is growing evidence to support the relationship between combatting plastic waste and tackling climate change. As the UK seeks to strengthen its position in the circular economy, understanding the part plastics play in factors such as energy saving, lowering carbon emissions and reducing the use of natural resources are prevalent.
Since the Plastics Pact was introduced in 2018, WRAP has seen a 10% decrease in consumer plastic packaging, which amounts to a 335 kilotonne (kt) carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) reduction, or 15,000 fewer cars from today’s roads.
Recycling packaging also uses 75% less energy than virgin materials in the production environment. Plus, with the current amount of recycled plastic sitting at 18%, this saves 140,000 tonnes CO2e or over one million barrels of virgin oil production, WRAP says.
In 2022, WRAP released research recommending UK’s retailers revisit how they sell uncut fresh produce to lower plastic packaging’s environmental impact. The findings also urge retailers to remove date labels unless it can be demonstrated that a Best Before reduces overall food waste.
By the end of 2022, UK Plastic Pact members were given the goal of removing as much plastic items as possible from their products, including from new key plastic items. Additionally, WRAP has set out the longer-term goal of removing plastic packaging for uncut fresh fruit and vegetables, as much as possible, unless demonstrated to reduce food waste.
Challenges in attaining plastic goals
Upon reaching the halfway mark towards its plastic packaging pact goals in 2022, the charity said it has experienced moments that have “really challenged the status quo” through changes in packaging design and reducing the difficulty of recycling plastics.
More work is needed, however. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is expected to come into effect in a phased manner in 2024 instead of 2023. WRAP recognises that policy changes on EPR are “potentially game-changing, but the delays are challenging”.
To counter legislative holdups and slow administrative processes, voluntary agreements offer opportunities to experiment, collaborate, fail, improve and change. Ultimately, a voluntary approach would act as a “powerful agent for change”, WRAP has said.
Therefore, the focus for the next few years appears to be on raising awareness of and sharing clear goals that are met with voluntary efforts and collaboration throughout the plastic value chain to prompt real, long-term impact.
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