Public wants ‘national standard’ for packaging recycling

The British public wants all food packaging to be made 100 per cent recyclable anywhere in the country, according to a survey of over 6,000 people published today (16 July).

Mixed food and drink packaging
Concern about the impact of food packaging is rising
The research, which assesses UK citizens’ opinions around food waste and packaging, was commissioned by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) and was carried out by Icaro Consulting. The survey builds on previous research from 2012 and reveals how public concern about waste has grown since then.

When asked which five issues around food most concerned them, 40 per cent of respondents said food waste, up from 33 per cent in 2012, while 28 per cent said they were concerned about the way food products are packaged – an increase of 12 percentage points since 2012.

In fact, 53 per cent of respondents said they were either ‘much more concerned’ or ‘a little more concerned’ about food packaging and plastic packaging in general compared to last year, with a growing awareness of plastic waste and its environmental impact influenced by increased media coverage.

59 per cent of citizens want ‘clear and definitive labelling' on packaging

Hard-to-recycle forms of packaging like crisp packets and sweet wrappers were the most concerning form of packaging, followed closely by black plastic trays and plastic film. When asked about changes that would make a difference, the largest amount of respondents (44 per cent) said that making all food packaging completely recyclable is the most important change needed, so that ‘wherever consumers live they can recycle everything in the council collection’. Linked to this, 59 per cent said ‘clear and definitive labelling’ was needed to make sure packaging goes into the right bins.

A pile of black plastic food trays
Survey respondents were highly concerned about the use of black plastic trays, crisp packets and plastic films
“Food packaging remains high on the news agenda, and in the minds of the public who want to see action,” commented WRAP UK’s Director, Peter Maddox. “It is important to remember that well designed packaging is very effective, and demonising it is not helpful. So it is heartening to see that almost half of respondents want to see packaging that is fully recyclable as their topmost action. We must also keep the role of packaging in preventing food waste front of mind, and the dire impacts on climate change that food waste could have if we do not tackle it urgently.”

Food waste vs food packaging

As Maddox mentioned, packaging does play an important role in preventing food waste, and there has actually been an increase, since 2012, in the number of consumers who recognise the benefits of packaging in keeping products safe, hygienic and fresher for longer. “Food waste is a massive global issue with 40 per cent of food never eaten contributing hugely to global warming. Packaging plays a vital role in preserving food in the supply chain and the home and it’s great to see growing recognition of this by consumers,” said Dick Searle, CEO at the Packaging Federation.

However, 38 per cent of respondents felt that food packaging waste had a bigger climate impact than food waste itself, while only nine per cent said that food waste was the greater problem when it came to climate change. This is most likely due to the increased coverage of the plastic waste problem, with recent programmes like Drowning in Plastic and Hugh and Anita’s War on Plastic showing plastic packaging waste from the UK littering natural environments around the world.

“The public has picked up a giant megaphone and amplified calls for a National Recycling Standard”

The results of the survey will be used to inform voluntary national programmes such as the UK Plastics Pact, which sees businesses pledge to make their packaging 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. The survey will also feed into the government’s proposed reforms to the UK’s waste and recycling system, in particular the implementation of consistent kerbside collections across the UK, with proposals put forward in the Resources and Waste Strategy for a core set of materials to be collected for recycling by all councils.

This proposal was put out for public consultation earlier this year, and while the findings of this have yet to be published, industry responses so far suggest there is significant support for the policy.

Paul Vanston, CEO at INCPEN, said: “In this survey the public has picked up a giant megaphone and amplified the calls by retailers, brands and the government for a National Recycling Standard. Delivering what the public wants requires a massive and speedy joint effort by all parts of the packaging value chain. We can take confidence that the packaging reforms proposed by all four nations in the recent consultations, as well as the work of the UK Plastics Pact and Courtauld 2025, are all in line with what citizens want policy makers and the value chain to get on and deliver.”

The full report on the findings of the survey can be read on the INCPEN website.

Related Articles