41 per cent of household plastic packaging collected for recycling in 2020

RECOUP has produced the results of its 2021 UK Household Plastics Collection Survey, which estimates that 584,000 tonnes of household polymers were collected by local authorities across the country in 2020.

The amount of packaging amassed increased by four per cent in comparison to 2019 – equating to a 24,000 tonne rise – however significant increases in collection rates remain necessary if the UK is to meet its plastic recycling target of having 70 per cent of the material either recycled or composted by 2025. 1,412,000 tonnes of the material entered the market in 2020, of which 990,000 was required to be collected in order for the Government to meet its quota – this would necessitate an increase of approximately 400,000 tonnes.

Plastic recyclingBreaking down the data further, the survey states that whilst 75 per cent of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) drinks bottles and 78 per cent of natural high density polyethylene (HDPE) milk bottles are currently collected for recycling, there is still room for this figure to grow. This is largely to set the bar for the other forms of plastic they currently outperform, which lower the overall collection rate for household packaging made from polymers to 41 per cent: at present, non-drinks bottles sit at 45 per cent; plastic pots, tubs, and trays at 36 per cent; and plastic film at four per cent.

The publication of these results come in the wake of the UK’s Packaging Producer Responsibility System, the forum for implementing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), being reformed. This should see an increase in the amount of household polymers collected, as the onus of paying the cost to manage packaging once it becomes waste should see producers incentivised to manufacture products that are easier to recycle.

Other legislation that will directly impact the potential performance of the UK’s plastic packaging recycling rates, according to RECOUP, include: the standardisation of household and business recycling as set out by the Environment Act; the roll-out of deposit return schemes (DRS) throughout the UK; the introduction of the UK Plastic Packaging Tax; and proposed restrictions on certain single-use plastics.

Steve Morgan, Head of Policy and Infrastructure at RECOUP, commented: “There are a multitude of varied high impact policies floating around and they’re going to come together at different times and provide different dynamics. Like a whirlpool, they’re going to be thrown together, probably at speed, and how they settle will direct the capability of the UK to manage our waste and recycling systems, possibly for a generation.
“It is crunch time for both decision-makers and industry to ensure that the policies can be implemented on time and effectively, in order to meet the UK’s environmental goals and maintain public support.”