Resource Use

WRAP’s voluntary agreement report shows further action is required to deliver climate goals

The Waste and Resources Action Plan (WRAP) has warned more collective action is needed from businesses to deliver on the goals of the voluntary agreements it leads on.

Photo of plastic waste in the ocean by Naja Bertolt Jensen (unsplash)The preemptive statement comes as part of the annual updates of WRAP’s voluntary agreements for the food, plastics and textiles sectors. These agreements work to highlight the challenges and pathways for tackling climate action, and detail where leading UK businesses are already acting to address waste, carbon and water usage through The Courtauld Commitment 2030, The UK Plastics Pact, and Textiles 2030.

In a call for businesses to change ‘consumption systems in line with a sustainable future’, Catherine David, Director of Collaboration and Change at WRAP, said: “Today's reports show the mountain we need to climb, and we call on all businesses to join us on this journey.”

Catherine added: “COP27 made it clear that we are not on track to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Accelerating action by businesses is paramount. The businesses signed up to our agreements are leading the way in transforming the food, textiles and plastic packaging sectors, demonstrating what is possible, and helping inform government’s thinking on needed regulatory levers.”

The Courtauld Commitment

The Courtauld Commitment, which targets retailer reductions in greenhouse gases (GHG) has so far reduced the UK’s food waste by 27 per cent since its launch in 2005.

Highlights in the latest progress report include:

  1. The Courtauld 2030 Water Roadmap was published in partnership with WWF and Rivers Trust. More than 50 businesses committed to protecting critical water resources under an eight-year programme are moving the UK closer to delivering UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Seven water action projects are underway that span the UK, Kenya, South Africa and Spain.
  2. The Food Waste Reduction Roadmap, launched by WRAP and the IGD in 2018, has seen the number of food businesses involved grow to 300, including all of the major grocery retailers. Now 221 large businesses are implementing ‘Target, Measure, Act’, an increase of seven per cent year-on-year.
  3. Retail food waste has reduced by 19,000 tonnes (8 per cent) between 2018 to 2021, saving almost £62m ending up as waste and the production of some 60,000 tonnes of GHG emissions.
  4. Food Waste Action Week went global with Weeks running in twelve countries, in only its second year. In the UK, the campaign reached over eight million people.
  5. WRAP’s cross-sector collaboration with Courtauld 2030 signatories and UK Plastics Pact members, proved that selling loose fresh produce can reduce food waste and plastic waste in the home. As a result, multiple retailers began removing Best Before dates with Asda, Lidl, M&S, Ocado, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose removing labels and Aldi, Co-op and Morrisons trialling removal.

While positive work continues, WRAP stress the need for significantly higher levels of investment to support its water programme to triple the number of catchment projects by 2030. The organisation also says that more businesses must urgently adopt its reporting protocols to consistently measure scope 3 GHG emissions, and work with WRAP to develop and implement net zero transition plans.

While reductions in food waste continue in the supply chain, the NGO warns of the need for expanded action through its ‘Target, Measure, Act’ approach with the hospitality sector facing significant challenges.

The UK Plastics Pact

Since 2018, The UK Plastics Pact has aimed to change how the UK makes, uses and disposes of plastics. In the last three years, the Pact has doubled the recycled content in packaging and significantly eliminated unnecessary (84 per cent) and hard-to-recycle (90 per cent) components in packaging.

However, the recycling of plastic bags and wrapping continues to be a major barrier and WRAP warns that urgent action is needed to reduce unnecessary plastics, and ensure the rest is recyclable and recycled.

The Plastic Pact is united behind four targets for 2025:

1. ‘Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery model’.

WRAP recorded an 84 per cent reduction in problematic and unnecessary plastics between 2018 and 2021 (734m down to 114m items; 620 million fewer items on shelf) with tonnage down by 57 per cent, to 9,000t.

2. ‘100 per cent of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable’.

Today, WRAP reports that 70 per cent of packaging is recyclable, up from 66 per cent in 2018. There has also been a 90 per cent reduction in hard-to-recycle plastics. However, despite these significant improvements, on the current trajectory, WRAP warns that members will not hit this target owing to a lack of at-scale recycling of bags and wrapping through kerbside collections. And the many trials to move to reusable packaging need to be scaled.

3. ‘70 per cent of plastic packaging is effectively recycled or composted’.

Currently, 50 per cent of plastic packaging is recycled. There has been a six per cent increase since 2018.

Yet, WRAP highlights that achieving a 70 per cent recycling rate for plastic packaging may not be possible without widespread collection of plastic bags and wrapping directly from homes and workplaces, which will not be fully rolled out until 2027. The Plastics Pact targets were set based on predictions of when key policy instruments, including consistency in recycling collections and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), would be introduced.

In the meantime, supermarket collection points will play a ‘vital interim role’ in the meantime.

4. ‘30 per cent average recycled content across all plastic packaging’.

WRAP reports that a 22 per cent average recycled content has been achieved, up from 8.5 per cent in just three years. Both the absolute reduction in the use of virgin plastic and the increase in recycled content delivered a saving of 260,000 tonnes of CO2e. Overall, Pact members placed 205,000 tonnes of recycled content in primary packaging ahead of the introduction of the Plastic Packaging Tax in April 2022.

Textiles 2030

Launched in April 2021, Textiles 2030 has convened more than 110 leading businesses and organisations and brought the UK one step closer to accurately measuring and addressing the impact of the UK’s clothing and home textiles. Signatories are adopting a ‘Target, Measure, Act’ approach to carbon and water reduction targets and working collaboratively across their supply chains to implement improvements in line with the Textiles 2030 Circularity Roadmap.

According to WRAP, the environmental footprint for the textiles and clothing industry is ‘currently moving in the wrong direction’, fuelled by consumption rates that see between four per cent and 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions arising from apparel and textiles.

Compared to its baseline year, data from Textiles 2030's first year reveals that in 2021 brands' and retailers’ carbon footprint rose by 4.4 per cent from 11.6MtCO2e to 12.1MtCO2e. Water footprints rose by one per cent to 2.7 billion M3.

However, the report also shows a significant rise in the number of improvement actions being taken by the brand and retailer signatories to reduce their footprints – 106 actions in 2021 compared to 64 in the baseline year. Without these improvements, their carbon footprints would have increased by 6.4 per cent rather than 4.4%, and water footprints would have risen by 15 per cent as opposed to one per cent.

Fibre switching alone is not enough to counteract growing sales and the massive impact overproduction and overconsumption of textiles are having on the planet, WRAP claims. The NGO suggests that far more textile businesses must embrace circularity, work collaboratively through Textiles 2030, and accelerate the implementation of new business models.

Voluntary agreements

WRAP’s voluntary agreements bring together Governments, businesses, local authorities, academics, NGOs, industry groups and citizens to take collaborative action. They address how food and drink, plastics and textiles are produced and sold through their reuse, remanufacture and recycling. The voluntary model operates in tandem with policy development, but WRAP says it can deliver impact faster, and with more flexibility, than regulation alone.

A Target-Measure-Act approach, developed by WRAP, ensures rigorous evaluation of progress, giving businesses transparent and publicly reported updates against targets to avoid greenwashing.