Only One Third Of All Plastic Packaging Is Being Recycled

According to new research, only one third of all plastic packaging used for consumer products is recycled each year, with the remaining two thirds being sent to landfill or incineration.

Only 500,000 tonnes of the 1.5m tonnes of recyclable plastic waste manufactured every year is being recycled as intended, according to the figures compiled by The Co-op from the Recoup UK Household Plastics Collection survey.

Recycling groups say the problems lie with a lack of consumer knowledge about which packaging can be recycled, as well as the lack of provision of recycling services by local authorities.

Consumers were most diligent with recycling plastic bottles, with people recycling 7.5b out of 13b (57%) plastic bottles used by UK households each year. However, only about 30% of all plastic pots, tubs and trays were recycled.

The worst offender was plastic film products, which include carrier bags, pasta and rice bags, and the film on ready meals, only about 3% of which were believed to be recycled in 2015. This is largely due to the fact that just 80 Local Authorities around the country (20%) provide a recycling service for the collection of these materials.

The Co-op has launched an ambition to have 80% of all its packaging recyclable by 2020 and is calling on other retailers to follow its lead on developing new packaging and working with local authorities to improve recycling levels.

Iain Ferguson, Environment Manager at Co-op, said: “It is shocking that such a small percentage of plastic packaging is being recycled, especially materials that are already easy to recycle like plastic bottles.  We are concerned that so much still goes to landfill every year. We need to stop thinking about this plastic as a waste and start to use it as a resource. What is needed is a co-ordinated response to the problem. This should start with retailers and major brands listening to recyclers and developing packaging that is better for recycling”.

He added: “Our long term ambition is for ALL packaging to be recycled where it can be, and we are making a bold start by setting a target that, by 2020, 80% of our products will have packaging that is easy to recycle.”

The Co-op says it has already re-designed and simplified plastic packaging to make it easier for consumers to recycle and is working with local authorities to share best practice. It is now calling on other retailers to follow suit by developing new packaging to improve recyclability.

The Co-op has also called for the introduction of clear labelling to differentiate items that recyclers can’t use to make it easier for consumers and recyclers.

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