Uniting business leaders at the halfway point for our plastic challenge

20 May 2022

We have reached the halfway point for our plan to transform the way plastic is produced, used, and disposed of in the UK.

The UK Plastics Pact Annual Summit 2022 marked this crucial moment in the road to 2025 with both reflections on the progress made  – and acknowledgement of the challenges ahead.

To keep on track, we identified how we will need to:

  • Crack the challenge of plastic bags and wrapping.
  • Overcome the operational difficulties of reuse and refill schemes.
  • Eliminate more unnecessary and unrecyclable plastic packaging.
  • Mitigate the delays in policy implementation.

Coming as the IPCC reiterated the need to accelerate action to keep 1.5 alive, the Summit also recognised the contribution to tackling climate change that reusing and recycling plastic packaging makes.

Through intensive, multi-layered discussions, five key themes emerged:

1. Businesses need to keep ahead of the policy makers

We know that well-designed national and global policies help to level out the playing field across businesses and enable otherwise difficult decisions to be made. 

Pact members have clearly embraced the introduction of extended producer responsibility (EPR) and the drive for consistent collections in the UK as a critical tool in the fight against plastic pollution. EPR will be vital to incentivise good design, drive more standardisation of collection systems, help fund campaigns aimed at changing individual behaviour and critically, drive investment in more UK infrastructure.

However, the delay in its implementation is challenging – and the planet can’t wait. We have seen some great business leadership over the last few years and now we need more. We can’t wait for EPR, and we need to think differently about where we can accelerate action.

2. Markets are critical

There is some intriguing and exciting work happening around innovation in design and alternative materials, as well as excitement around the potential for chemical recycling. But none of this will be viable unless we build strong markets to create the demand for recycled materials and ensure that the market economics are right. 

That applies to chemical recycling as much as mechanical recycling.  Chemical recycling offers a solution to produce food grade recycled plastic from more packaging types. It could open up a big new recycling market.  Some of the innovation on this front is amazing; it is not just crude pyrolysis anymore. The plastic tax was meant to drive this type of market development but at the moment chemical recycling doesn’t count and the economics are challenging.  

We need to change that.  Investment in plastic recycling will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions here in the UK, create jobs and grow our economy – as our report shows.

Net Zero: why resource efficiency holds the answers

3. Re-use and refill

The importance of developing refill and reuse options was a shared desire at the Summit. However, finding the right model which will be convenient, cost effective and offers an enticing shopping experience is proving difficult.  It is also a bit niche and needs to be accessible for many more people. 

Pact members made strong pledges to work closer together to crack this.  With EPR incentivising reuse/refill from 2025, now is the time for businesses to work out how to make it mainstream and WRAP will help to facilitate this. 

4. Recycle, recycle, recycle

People are doing a great job recycling bottles, pots, tubs and trays in the kitchen. Now we need to work harder to help them to recycle everything they can all over the house - especially bathroom products. Kerbside collections of plastic bags and plastic wrapping won’t be consistently in place until 2027 so we need the takeback schemes through supermarkets to be extensive and well used. 

Critical to maintaining public faith in recycling is the demonstration that recycled materials are being used in the products they are buying.  We need to increase transparency about what happens to products that are put out for recycling, and signposting to where plastic packaging is made from recycled content, with a substantially reduced carbon footprint. Communications are key.

5. Making it easy

We also need to make it easy for people. The end goal has to be where all shopping experiences meet the needs of convenience, cost and protecting the planet. From selling all fresh fruit and veg loose, to providing a refill and reuse model which is simple to use and saves money, to making collection points for plastic bags and wrapping prominent and accessible. 

We are changing a system – and that is difficult

Since The UK Plastics Pact was launched 4 years ago in April 2018, so much has changed but also so much remains still to be changed. What we have accomplished so far shows that we can achieve what is still left to be done. As the mantra of The UK Plastics Pact says, Together We Can.