Local Government Association (LGA) analysis suggests that only a third of plastic used by households is recyclable, as it calls on manufacturers to prevent materials entering the environment which “hamper recycling efforts”.
The LGA report claims 525,000 tonnes of plastic pots, tubs and trays are used by households a year but just 169,145 tonnes of this waste is able to be recycled.
It’s now calling for manufacturers to work with councils and develop a plan to stop unrecyclable packaging from entering the environment in the first place.
The LGA points to black plastics used in some food packaging as an example of “particularly inefficient packaging”.
In addition to developing a plan that ensures recyclable packaging is used where possible, councils are calling on the Government to consider a ban on low-grade plastics, and for producers and manufacturers to contribute to the cost of collection or disposal.
99% of councils collect plastic bottles for recycling and 77% collect pots, tubs and trays, but the inclusion of these “challenging polymers” in so much packaging is making it extremely difficult for councils, it says.
Cllr Judith Blake, LGA Environment spokesperson – “We’ve been calling for producers of unrecyclable material to develop a plan to stop this from entering the environment for years. That needs to happen urgently, but the Government should now consider banning low-grade plastics, particularly those for single use, in order to increase recycling.”
In order to increase recycling rates, the LGA says it is essential that manufacturers prevent materials entering the environment which hamper recycling efforts. Alternatives to the packaging saturated in polymers which are challenging to recycle could include cardboard, paper or a recyclable version of pots. For instance, if margarine tubs were made out of the same material as plastic water bottles, they would be recyclable, it says.
Cllr Judith Blake, LGA Environment spokesperson, said: “It’s time for manufacturers to stop letting a smorgasboard of unrecyclable and damaging plastic flow into our environment. Some of the measures that could help us reduce landfill and increase recycling are no- brainers; for instance, microwave meals should be stored in a container that is any other colour than black, to enable quicker recycling.
“We’ve been calling for producers of unrecyclable material to develop a plan to stop this from entering the environment for years. That needs to happen urgently, but the Government should now consider banning low-grade plastics, particularly those for single use, in order to increase recycling.
“If manufacturers don’t want to get serious about producing material which can be recycled and protecting our environment, then they should at least contribute towards the cost that local taxpayers have to pay to clear it up.
“We need an industry-wide, collaborative approach where together we can reduce the amount of material having an impact on the environment. But if industry won’t help us get there, then the Government should step in to help councils ensure we can preserve our environment for generations to come.”
The LGA points to five “everyday” packages that use unrecyclable plastic:
- Margarine and Ice Cream Tubs.This packaging contains the polymer Polypropylene, which is extremely difficult to recycle. An alternative to this could be making them out of plastic used for water bottles which can be easily recycled.
- Microwave meal and meat packaging.These materials can be re-sorted and recycled easily, but need to be sorted using an optical scanner beforehand. The optical scanner can sort this material from any other colour other than black, yet manufacturers intentionally choose to use black packaging for aesthetic reasons. Changing the colour of these trays could lead to a real increase in recycling.
- Fruit and Vegetable punnets.Though simple in design, these punnets are complex in construction, with three polymers used in the construction of them. Councils are calling for a simpler design using recyclable materials.
- Yoghurt potsuse a mixture of two polymers, Polypropylene and Polystyrene, which are difficult to recycle. Some companies now use yoghurt pots made out of polyethylene terephthalate – the same material that is used for plastic bottles, making them easily recyclable.
- Bakery goods trays.The lining which is used to house cakes and baked goods contains two difficult-to-recycle polymers, polyethelene terephthalate and polystyrene. More recyclable materials are available to store baked goods.
In response, Paul Vanston, CEO of INCPEN, a research organisation funded by a group of companies with a common interest in packaging, the environment and sustainable development, has outlined ways the packaging industry is “at the table”, saying 2018 is proving to be a foundation year for “substantial change”.
“The old-style ways of issuing press releases pointing fingers of blame at others in the very same value chain have been set aside by the most forward-thinking organisations whom are fully engaged in current agendas and helping to shape them,” he said.
“These same forward-thinking organisations are demonstrating leadership through their own compromises to unlock advancements on recycling challenging materials, supporting that councils receive more funding, and contributing at senior levels to national change programmes including the UK Plastics Pact, Courtauld 2025, and extended producer responsibility reforms.”
Paul Vanston, CEO of INCPEN – “Citizens, governments and the value chain see an array of differing recycling collections that the 300+ councils offer, even when they are next door to each other, and especially in England. Personally, I think there is greater consistency of packaging recycling collections across councils than many think, especially in terms of packaging formats that are recycled.”
Mr Vanston points to the creation of the UK Plastics Pact as a “game-changer” on polymer rationalisation in food & drink products, increasing plastics packaging recyclability, and enabling consumer labelling that is clear and unambiguous on recycling messaging, he says.
He says the “smorgasbord” that the LGA refers to actually exists in several parts of how the value chain operates, Mr Vanston says, which includes councils’ packaging recycling collections.
“Citizens, governments and the value chain see an array of differing recycling collections that the 300+ councils offer, even when they are next door to each other, and especially in England. Personally, I think there is greater consistency of packaging recycling collections across councils than many think, especially in terms of packaging formats that are recycled.
“But this solid foundation is what gives rise to my optimism that local government, and the LGA in particular, can remove their existing blocks to having full consistency of packaging recycling collections. If collections consistency, and unambiguous consumer labelling, can happen simultaneously by around 2023, that’s a goal worth aiming for, and allows five years to get it done.
“This is an extremely important aspect where the LGA can help right now. Consistency of councils’ packaging recycling collection services is a simultaneous, complimentary and necessary aspect of the joint whole-system approach that we wish the LGA to work on with us. I have high expectations the LGA will use its valuable and potentially influential seat on the UK Plastics Pact Steering Group to unlock the doors currently holding consistency back, in the same way that retailers are unlocking how they will specify future product packaging that is consistent.
“The LGA is saying “sovereignty’ is not a good enough reason on its own for manufacturers and retailers to maintain packaging differences that make things hard to recycle. I agree. Similarly, it is my view that local government ‘sovereignty’ is also not a good enough reason for councils to maintain their differences in terms of consistency of packaging recycling collections. If we place citizens at the heart of issues, we should recognise local government’s householders – and retailers’ customers – are one and the same. Sovereignty on either side now needs to be set aside in favour of putting citizens first.
“It’s precisely because of our shared desire to make things easier for citizens, and to put their interests first, that organisations like the LGA and INCPEN need to work closer than ever. I am happy to get around as many tables as are needed to help us achieve better outcomes for the country.”