UK Plastics Pact cuts unnecessary plastic by 40% and increases plastic recycling by 107,000 tons

UK Plastics Pact cuts unnecessary plastic by 40% and increases plastic recycling by 107,000 tons

December 4, 2020
Press Release: WRAP

WRAP has published its second annual report for The UK Plastics Pact showing that members have made some good progress against targets, including a reduction in the amount of plastic packaging being used, and good progress in plastic recycling at home. But, warned the charity’s CEO, Marcus Gover, there are significant challenges ahead which need urgent attention to keep the UK on course

“It’s great to see UK Plastics Pact members cutting unnecessary plastic packaging by 40% and increasing recycling to 50% in just one year,” enthused Gover. “This was exactly why we set up the Pact – to tackle problematic plastic, increase re-use and recycling, and stop plastic polluting the environment. I am delighted with the progress and very pleased to see leading businesses trialing refill and re-use alternatives.”

The 2019 UK Plastics Pact data show:

  • Target 1 – 400 million items classed as problematic or unnecessary were sold by Pact members in 2019 (a 40% reduction from 2018)*
  • Target 2 – 64% of plastic packaging placed on the market by Pact members continues to be recyclable**
  • Target 3 – The amount of plastic packaging recycled in the UK has increased from 44% in 2018 to 50% in 2019
  • Target 4 – Average recycled content has increased from 9% in 2018 to 13% in 2019.***

Target 1
400 million ‘problematic and unnecessary items’ classified under Target 1 were sold by Pact members in 2019. Most Pact members are on track to eliminate six of the eight items and materials classified as ‘problematic and unnecessary items’ under Target 1 by the end of this year. The estimated tonnage of this material sold was 16,000 tons, showing a 30% reduction on 2018 levels.

While the amount of PVC has more than halved over this time period, from the outset it was clear that in some applications it would not be possible to remove PVC in the time period – e.g. when used in pharmaceutical packaging where the product is licensed with the packaging.

Polystyrene remains an issue. Pact members need to proactively remove polystyrene, for example Danone has invested in new technologies to produce yogurt pots from PET or PP. Their new PET pots are recyclable and crucially allow recycled plastic content to be incorporated back into the pots.

Members reporting in 2018 and 2019 show a 6% reduction in plastic packaging placed on the market. Actions taken by members to address unnecessary packaging include the joint initiative by Heinz and Tesco removing shrink film from multi-packs of tinned foods and PepsiCo reducing excess headspace in multi-packs of several leading brands of crisps.

Target 2
Today, 64% of plastic packaging placed on the market by Pact members is recyclable. WRAP urges Pact members across the value chain to improve this significantly by ensuring that flexible plastic packaging is widely recyclable in the UK.

Several brands and supermarkets are making inroads to re-usables and refill including Asda, which collaborated with Taylors of Harrogate, PepsiCo and Unilever with seven brands including Persil, PG Tips and Radox to launch its pilot sustainability store in 2020. Among plastic reduction and recycling initiatives, it offers common everyday items, personal care products and laundry products in refillable formats. Asda estimate that the initiatives being trialed will save one million pieces of plastic per year. More trial results need to be shared across Pact members to show how re-use and refill can be commercially viable and scalable by 2025.

Aligned with The UK Plastic Pact polymer choice guidance, members are beginning to make the changes necessary to design their packaging for greater recyclability. Many members have removed non-recyclable black plastic including Quorn. Iconic designs have been altered to improve recyclability such as Suntory Beverage and Food GB&I brand Ribena.

Target 3
The amount of plastic packaging that is being recycled increased from 44% in 2018 to 50% in 2019. That’s an additional 107,000 tons no longer being burned or buried. The number of local authorities collecting plastic pots/tubs/trays increased from 79% in 2018 to 84% in 2019 across the UK, while all continue to collect plastic bottles.

More people than ever before are recycling, with WRAP’s latest citizen research showing that almost nine in 10 (87%) of UK households regularly recycle.

Brands and retailers continue to promote positive recycling behaviors. Examples include Coca-Cola which has created space on its bottle labels to communicate recycling messaging to citizens on pack. Morrisons has included front-of-pack recycling messaging across many ranges to inform and encourage customers to bring PE film back to store for recycling.

There has been important investment in the recycling sector by Pact members. Jayplas has invested in a plastic film recycling plant with 100,000 tons of capacity. Veolia, in collaboration with Charpak and Unilever, will develop the UK’s first dual PET bottle and tray recycling facility.

Target 4
Average recycled content is now 13%, having risen from 9% in 2018. This equates to 700,000 barrels of new (virgin) oil and 66,000 tons of CO2e. We have a long way to go to reach our 30% target, but this is still a positive move.

Member actions include Coca-Cola, who moved all PET bottles to 50% rPET content across all core brands. Waitrose launched new packaging for its ‘treat tubs’ made from 90% recycled material and Unilever’s new Magnum tubs and lids for its ‘pints range’ are made with recycled polypropylene (rPP).

“Of course we will always need to do more to deliver our bold ambition for 2025,” assessed WRAP’s Gover. “I am looking forward to UK Plastics Pact members eliminating more unnecessary plastic and further increasing the recyclability of packaging in 2021. Developing solutions to overcome the challenges of recycling flexible plastic packaging will be a particular priority. Collection points for plastic bags and films at supermarkets will be an important step in the right direction, but we need all supermarkets to collect all plastic films to make this work.”

“I’m very pleased to see the progress of The UK Plastics Pact which is tackling one of the greatest threats to our environment, and I thank all those involved who are working on this vital project,” added Environment Minister Rebecca Pow. “We must continue to go further and faster to tackle unnecessary plastic, and that’s why we have recently banned the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds and confirmed the extension of the single-use carrier bag charge to all retailers, which has already cut sales by 95% in the main supermarkets.

“Our landmark Environment Bill will also give us powers to introduce deposit return schemes for drinks containers and extended producer responsibility for packaging. From 2022 we will also introduce a world-leading tax on plastic packaging which doesn’t meet a minimum threshold of at least 30% recycled content.”

Plastic Free World Conference & Expo 2021 will be co-located with The Greener Manufacturing Show and will take place at Cologne Messe, Germany, on Wednesday 16 June and Thursday 17 June 2021. Registrations for this highly focused, solutions-driven event will open in early 2021. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email

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