RECOUP survey: Plastic packaging use and recycling collection rates fall for the first time

New research has indicated a 70,000-tonne reduction in the total household plastic packaging being placed on the UK market.

Plastic packaging useThe survey – conducted by resource efficiency and recycling charity RECOUP – has also revealed a 30,000-tonne decrease in plastic packaging collected by local authorities at the kerbside.

These figures arrive alongside a fall in the level of provision of kerbside collections; the survey has indicated that whilst all local authorities have collected plastic bottles since 2019, only 88 per cent collect plastic pots, tubs and trays – a figure the same as in 2021 – whilst provision for plastic films and flexibles has fallen from 13 per cent to 12 per cent. This represents the sixth year running that the provision for plastic films has decreased.

Overall, this equates to a collection rate of 42 per cent for all types of household plastic packaging. Specifically, the rate is 63 per cent for plastic bottles, 39 per cent for plastic pots, tubs, and trays, and a mere 7 per cent for plastic films and flexibles. Across both household and commercial sources in the UK, the total recycling rate for plastic packaging stands at 52 per cent.

Tom McBeth, Policy and Infrastructure Manager at RECOUP commented: “This year’s Survey has shown the reduction in packaging placed on the market.

“Whilst the collected material also dropped, in the context of the amount of material used, it shows a picture of stagnation in collection levels with service provision also remaining similar to the 2022 Survey.

“With the news of Simpler Recycling beginning to come into force in England from 2025, and some level of certainty in dates for material collection requirements, DRS and EPR, it is important that local authorities are now able to understand the funding they will have to drive the collection of more plastic packaging from consumers”.

Recycling engagement in the UK

RECOUP’s survey also indicated the need for improved communications programmes to assist in improving recycling behaviour amongst UK households.

Launching its ‘UK Citizen Plastics Recycling Behaviours Insights Survey 2023’, the charity has revealed a seven per cent decrease in citizens claiming to recycle plastic bottles ‘every time’, with the figure now sitting at 88 per cent. Simultaneously, the UK has experienced a minor increase in reject rates – one local authority reported a rate of 37 per cent, whilst the average across all authorities was 14 per cent.

These statistics come as 57 per cent of local authorities reported conducting an ongoing waste and recycling communications campaign, with a further 23 per cent in the prior 12 months.

RECOUP cites inconsistency in messaging – for example regarding rinsing, emptying or removing lids from packaging – as a potential driver for the falling engagement.

Anne Hitch, Business and Project Development Lead at RECOUP said: “Whilst we continue to wait for supporting legislation, citizens remain uncertain about what to recycle in terms of plastics and how.

“32 per cent of all respondents to the Insights Survey declared that when they do not recycle an item it is because they are confused about if it is recyclable.

“If we are to gain ground in terms of kerbside tonnages and quality of plastics, it is crucial that investment in plastics recycling communications is given priority”.

Related Articles