Manufacturers urged to adopt new guidelines for recyclability of household rigid packaging

WRAP, which manages The UK Plastics Pact, has today published guidance that sets out which plastics used in household packaging are currently classed as ‘recyclable’.

It provides direction to packaging designers and specifiers, setting out a ‘best in class’ vision for design, including targets for recycled content.

Through consultation with industry, WRAP has identified what types of plastic packaging are actually recycled, at scale and in practice, and are therefore defined as ‘recyclable’. The On-Pack Labelling Scheme (OPRL) is anticipated to adopt what is classed as ‘recyclable’ under The UK Plastics Pact when it updates its guidance later in 2019.

The document highlights a preference for clear PET (often used for drinks bottles and trays), on the basis that the end market for this material is significantly higher and by using ‘clear’, there is the greatest potential for it to be used back, ideally into plastic packaging.

When it comes to colour, only those that can be sorted in the recycling processes using near-infra red technology will be deemed recyclable. WRAP plans to publish further guidance on this in the coming months, specifically in relation to new near-infra-red (NIR) detectable black plastics.

Peter Maddox, Director of WRAP UK, launched the guidance at today’s Packaging News Environmental Packaging Summit and said: “If plastic is recyclable, and clearly labelled as such, we stand a far greater chance of keeping that plastic in the economy and out of the natural environment. We also know from recent research that citizens want to see packaging that is 100% recyclable, which they can recycle at home. By rationalising the number of polymers used in packaging, we can develop a more efficient recycling system, and reduce confusion for citizens.

Through The UK Plastics Pact we are working at pace with our members to respond to this, and ensure that all plastic packaging is re-usable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. This new guidance is a significant milestone in our journey towards reaching that target.

“Businesses that specify, design and produce plastic packaging will be able to draw on this resource for best practise guidance in selecting plastic polymers which are recyclable, while retaining the important protective properties that packaging has. While some plastics are classed as recyclable, there is a need to move beyond this, ideally selecting polymers which have a greater recyclability potential than others. In doing so it will help us to achieve other Pact targets, notably to achieve an average of 30% recycled content across all pack formats.”

Users of the guidance will find ‘best in class’ polymer choices for individual packaging types to guarantee recyclability. For example, for plastic food and drink bottles, the guidance explains:

  • Best in class material choice – for the bottle, cap and sleeve
  • Best in class colour choice
  • Labelling recommendations
  • The rationale behind these recommendations

While the scope of the guidance is currently rigid plastic packaging – bottles, pots tubs and trays – it will be updated in the future to include films and flexibles.

The classifications of what is recyclable do not yet include compostable plastics. WRAP believes similar principles should be applied to these types of plastics, with a need to demonstrate that the materials are actually composted in current infrastructure. Further guidance on this is expected over the summer.

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