10 per cent decrease in plastic packaging across UK supermarkets

The UK Plastics Pact has published its third annual report which reveals that there has been ‘good collective progress’ from the consortium’s members against four environmental targets set by the body.

Published through the Waste and Resources Action Plan (WRAP), the paper analysed data reported from each of its members in order to ascertain whether its constituent brands have achieved a consistent and significant reduction in consumer plastic packaging over the past year. Overall, it recorded a 10 per cent decrease in plastic packaging across participating UK supermarkets, equating to a 335,000 cut in carbon emissions.

Plastic packagingIn terms of the recycled content of packaging, across its members, WRAP uncovered that, altogether, there was an increase of 18 per cent reused matter since 2018. With this figure almost doubling since the Plastics Pact was first established, this progress puts the consortium’s affiliates ‘on track to hit 30 per cent average recycled content by 2025. WRAP warns, however, that in spite of this advancement, it remains imperative that the material obtained for reprocessing is high in quality and designed for recyclability.

The report goes on to make note of ‘innovations’ in soft plastic recycling, stating that, whilst the introduction of instore collections points is a promising start, the scaling up of the infrastructure is crucial for targets to be hit. WRAP urges more supermarkets to establish collection points, as well as prompting investment from the industry into critical recycling infrastructure, particularly those which handle soft plastics.

Within the review, WRAP also pushes for the expansion of reuse and refill trials across the country. The charity states that through sharing the resulting evidence, such operations could be developed to become a mainstay of the nation’s highstreets.
The report’s targets

The targets laid out by the UK Plastics Pact are as follows:

  • Target 1 – Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery models
  • Target 2 – 100 per cent of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable
  • Target 3 – 70 per cent of plastics packaging effectively recycled or composted
  • Target 4 - 30 per cent average recycled content across all plastic packaging

In terms of achieving Target 1, the report states that members of the UK Plastics Pact have reduced the amount of ‘problematic’ single-use plastic items distributed by 46 per cent. Whilst PVC packaging saw the most significant reduction, falling by over 80 per cent, WRAP states that ‘more action is required’ to eliminate other unnecessary plastics, such as polystyrene. WRAP also warns that companies must avoid simply switching to plastic alternatives that possess different environmental consequences.

As for Target 2 , the report revealed that 70 per cent of plastic packaging is now either reusable or recyclable – 5 per cent and 65 per cent respectively. It also marked a 70 per cent reduction in packaging in possession of ‘components that make them hard to recycle’. In this section of the report, WRAP makes reference to the issue of soft plastics recycling, doubling down on calls for the scaling up of collections points; investment from industry; and the specification of recycled content packaging derived from used soft plastics in order to see an upswing in recycling rates for the material.

An increase from 44 per cent to 52 per cent in the amount of plastic packaging recycled over the past year denotes the progression towards achieving Target 3. According to WRAP, the processing of plastics has grown by almost 50 per cent nationally over the last five years, with the report noting that over 1.5 million additional households are now able to ‘recycle a wider range of plastic packaging since 2018’.

Finally, as referenced earlier in the article, Target 4 has seen progress being made with an overall increase of 18 per cent being made by the consortium in terms of the average recycled content found across all plastic packaging

Marcus Gover, WRAP CEO, commented: “The UK Plastics Pact arose at a time of great public concern about plastic pollution and has been a constant and practical programme for collective change to reset our relationship with plastics. Comparing 2020 against 2018, it has shown strong progress against its environmental targets during a period of unmitigated societal upheaval.

“I believe this work should inspire us when we think about the enormous efforts needed to tackle climate change, and how innovation and experimentation can drive forward action through strong public-private partnerships. The results of real-life reuse and refill trials carried out under the Pact are extremely exciting for how we could shop packaging-free in the future. We see a 50 per cent growth in plastics reprocessing in the UK, which is a massive improvement and Recycle Week marked a record high in terms of the numbers of people recycling – helping complete the cycle of plastics to keep them in the economy and out of the environment. But as COP26 made clear, we have a long way to go and little time to make big changes.”

Jo Churchill, Resources and Waste Minister, said: “The UK Plastics Pact is creating a real sea change and shows how businesses are rising to the challenge of cutting their use of plastic and increasing recycling. But there is more we must do – and that is why we are consulting on banning a range of further single-use plastics and, through our exciting new Environment Act, we will make manufacturers more responsible for their packaging. With strong action from the government and businesses, we can drastically reduce waste, make better use of our resources and protect our natural environment.”