UK Plastics Pact update reveals where future challenges lie

WRAP has published its first annual report and baseline data for The UK Plastics Pact, giving a clear indication of members’ starting position towards the four targets, as well as where the biggest challenges lie.

The 2018/19 report and data shows 1 billion problematic and unnecessary single use plastic items to be eliminated by the end of 2020. It also shows pact members are over halfway towards all their packaging being recyclable, and the UK is over half-way towards recycling 70% of plastic packaging.

Members are a third of the way towards an average of 30% recycled content in their plastic packaging; and highly complex challenges remain, such as developing a recycling system for films and flexible packaging.

The UK Plastics Pact is a unique, collaborative initiative that will create a circular economy for plastics. It brings together businesses from across the entire plastics value chain with UK governments and NGOs to tackle plastic waste.

Our Pact members have shown that they’re committed to this challenge and our new report demonstrates the breadth of action so far on tackling plastic waste.

Marcus Gover, WRAP CEO, said: “The way that we make, use and dispose of plastic is transforming, and I am proud of the progress that the Pact has made so far. But there is no magic wand – we’re unpicking a highly complex and well-established system and making sure that we don’t simply displace the environmental cost elsewhere. Retaining the valuable role plastic packaging plays, especially in preventing food waste, is crucial. We can’t gamble with the climate in our desire to tackle plastic pollution.

“Our Pact members have shown that they’re committed to this challenge and our new report demonstrates the breadth of action so far on tackling plastic waste. These aren’t token gestures – changes like these require a huge amount of investment and innovation. It shows that our members are working collaboratively towards the same goal.

“Moving forward we face significant challenges, particularly around films and flexible packaging, increasing recycling, and development of re-use and refill models. These will be our top priorities as we work urgently towards a world where plastic is valued and doesn’t pollute the environment.”

Alongside the annual report, WRAP has published an updated version of the Pact’s progress report, which provides a detailed breakdown of actions so far and pledged actions for Pact business members. This report now also contains information for business members from the waste management sector.

Since The UK Plastics Pact launched in April 2018, a number of other countries have followed suit, with The Netherlands and France launching Pacts in the past year. WRAP is also supporting the development and delivery of Plastics Pacts in Chile, Malaysia and South Africa, with more in the pipeline for 2020 and beyond.


The report published gives a comprehensive snapshot of progress against collective targets aimed at achieving a systemic overhaul of the plastics system in the UK. It shows that:

  • Target 1 – Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (re-use) delivery models:
    • Members are set to remove a total of 1.1bn items of problematic and unnecessary single use plastic by the end of 2020, with several items such as straws and cotton buds already eliminated by the majority of members.
    • Supermarkets have already removed 3,400 tonnes of unnecessary plastic packaging from fresh produce – the equivalent of 272 London buses – and 137.5m plastic stickers from fruit and vegetables.
  • Target 2 – 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable:
    • In 2018, 65% of the plastic packaging sold by Pact members was recyclable. Recent activity includes the removal of more than 19,000 tonnes of non-recyclable black plastic by supermarkets – the equivalent of 1.5bn ready meal trays. Morrisons and the Co-op have removed unrecyclable black plastic completely from their own brand products. Where black plastic has been removed it has been replaced by an alternative colour or clear plastic, which can be recycled.
    • By the end of 2020 all members are aiming to remove 21,000 tonnes of unrecyclable PVC and polystyrene from their packaging.
    • There has also been an increase in reusable packaging, such as the Waitrose ‘Unpacked’ trial stores providing refill stations for dry goods, wine, beer, and detergent refillables.
    • A key challenge will be developing a recycling system for plastic films (e.g. bread bags and crisp packets) which account for 25% of consumer plastic packaging, but only 4% is recycled. This will need to include innovation and investment in advanced recycling processes.
  • Target 3 – 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted:
    • As a nation we’re currently recycling 44% of our plastic packaging. This is being supported by crucial new investment in UK reprocessing of plastic, including new facilities being announced by waste management giants Viridor and Biffa.
    • Ensuring that citizens have the right information and motivation to recycle remains a challenge. All the supermarkets are signed up to the On-Pack Recycling Labelling system and leading brands such as Pepsi, evian, and innocent drinks have enhanced their on-pack recycling labelling, to make it clearer for citizens.
    • All the major supermarkets are helping customers to recycle more by providing plastic recycling collection points in store for stretchy film plastic – such as frozen food bags, carrier bags and bread bags, which normally can’t be recycled from home. In addition, M&S is continuing to roll out collection points for difficult to recycle plastic packaging and Tesco is trialling the collection of all types of all soft plastic packaging, including crisp packets, in some stores.
  • Target 4 – 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging:
    • In 2018 the average amount of recycled content was 10% across Pact members’ plastic packaging. This is saving more than half a million barrels of oil (more than 90,000 tonnes) in virgin plastic production and is equivalent to more than half a million dolphins in weight.
    • Actions by Pact members include brands launching water bottles using 100% recycled content such as Coca Cola’s Glaceau Smartwater and Highland Spring’s Eco Bottle. Recycled content in personal care and laundry products is also increasing. Many Dove products are now at 100% recycled content, while Lenor has achieved an average of 50% recycled plastic across their bottles and by next year will reach up to 100% recycled plastic in its PET transparent bottles. Waitrose, Morrisons and ASDA have adopted ready meal trays containing 80% recycled plastic which fluctuate in colour, reflecting the blend of recycled bottles and trays they are made from.
    • A key challenge towards meeting 30% is ensuring there is enough high quality recycled plastic available. This is why improvements in designing packaging for recycling are so important, for example the move by Sprite from green to clear bottles this year.

Meeting these four targets by 2025 will not only result in a circular economy for plastics, but also a reduction in virgin plastic production. This will be achieved not solely through increasing the levels of recycled content in packaging and products, but also as a result of refill solutions and moving away from problematic or unnecessary plastics.

In 2019, Governments proposed policies which will complement further progress towards the targets including greater consistency in recycling collections, a tax on plastic packaging that does not meet a minimum of 30% recycled content, and extended producer responsibility which is expected to generate substantial new funds to support recycling.

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