Work steps up a gear to tackle issues around problematic plastics, and eliminate where necessary

25 June 2019

  • UK Plastics Pact members to eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use plastics.
  • 8 items targetted initially for elimination by the end of 2020. 
  • 19 other items have been identified as problematic or unnecessary and WRAP is advising Pact members to avoid their use where possible, consider reuse options, or ensure they are suitable for recycling.

WRAP, the resource efficiency body that oversees The UK Plastics Pact, has today published a list of eight problematic or unnecessary single-use plastics that Pact members are expected to remove from shelf by the end of 2020. The eight for elimination are accompanied by a second list of nineteen plastic items which are to be prioritised for action to tackle problems associated with them by 2025. In doing so, the outcomes will be a reduction in the amount of plastic on the shelves, a reduction in demand for virgin plastic and avoiding up to 1 tonne of Co2 per tonne that is recycled. 

WRAP today has published its definition of what is meant as “problematic” or “unnecessary” plastics which relies on the following criteria:

  • Where it is avoidable, or a re-usable alternative is available.
  • When it cannot be recycled, or it hampers the recycling process. 
  • When it is commonly littered and pollutes the environment. 

Solving these problems will require collaboration and effort from all businesses and involve a range of actions such as considering re-fills, improved packaging design and optimising recycling. A key element is also ensuring that citizens are both motivated to recycle, and are clear on what can be recycled and how to recycle it. 

WRAP warns however, in seeking to overcome the problems with these plastics any unintended consequences that could lead to further global warming must be avoided. 

76 businesses, representing the whole of the value chain including those collectively responsible for 85% of plastic packaging sold through supermarkets, are signed up to achieve the four UK Plastics Pact targets by 2025:

  • Target One - Take actions to eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging items through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery models. 
  • Target Two - 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable. 
  • Target Three - 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted.
  • Target Four - 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging

Peter Maddox, Director WRAP, “We know that more people than ever are concerned about the impact of plastics. The fundamental way industry can support this public desire is by addressing the issues that lead to plastic packaging being problematic. So for every item of packaging we need to consider whether plastic is the right material choice, or indeed if packaging is required at all. In many cases, plastic may be the best material choice from an environmental perspective. In these cases, we need to ensure that the plastic can be and is recycled. The items listed today are priorities for UK Plastics Pact members, and the onus is on those members to implement changes, urgently.”

The eight core items* Pact members will eliminate as fast as possible, and by the end of 2020 wherever possible are: 

Disposable plastic cutlery These are frequently found littered on beaches.  Wherever possible reusable cutlery should be used, otherwise alternative materials adopted.

All polystyrene packaging Polystyrene is not recycled in the UK. It is often used for food takeaway containers and yoghurt pots and to package white goods like microwaves. Alternative materials can be used.

Cotton buds with plastic stems Cotton buds are often found during beach clean ups. While citizens need to play their part and not flush these down the toilet, there is no reason that the plastic cannot be substituted with card or other fibrous materials.

Plastic stirrers In many cases plastic stirrers could be substituted with an alternative material, or even a metal spoon that can be washed and reused.

Oxo-degradables that break down creating microplastics Oxo-degradable plastics fragment into microplastics which contribute to plastic pollution. This material is difficult for citizens to identify. Reusable alternatives should be used wherever possible and otherwise consider compostable or recyclable plastics.

Plastic straws1In most circumstances the use of a plastic straw is unnecessary and they don’t get recycled. Alternative materials can be used.

Disposable plastic plates and bowls Disposable plastic plates and bowls are designed to be used just once. They should be replaced with reusable options.

PVC packaging This type of plastic is not recycled and contaminates plastic which could otherwise be recycled. It is very difficult for citizens to identify. Alternative materials to be used.

1The recent Government ban will include exemptions to ensure that those people with medical needs or a disability are able to continue to access plastic straws.

WRAP’s approach anticipated the UK Government’s ban on straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds and the European Union’s Single Use Plastic Directive which  additionally targets expanded (but not all) polystyrene food containers, and single-use plastic cutlery and plates.

In addition, nineteen single use plastic items and materials are to be actively investigated with UK Plastics Pact members to develop solutions that address issues related to how we purchase and use these items through either avoidance, reuse, re-design and/or recycling or composting by 2025. The full list: 

1. Plastic bags e.g. carrier bags Avoidable and limited film recycling. 

2. Plastic film packaging - e.g. crisps, fruit and vegetable film packagingFilm packaging could be avoided in some instances where food waste doesn’t increase as a result. Limited film recycling in the UK. 

3. Multi-layer non-recyclable plastics e.g. pouches Not widely recycled.

4. Multi-pack rings for canned drinks  Potentially avoidable and not currently recycled.

 5. Multi-veg/fruit net bags e.g. citrus and some vegetablesIn some cases could be avoided and not currently recycled. 

 6. Multi-buy bulk (secondary) wrapping e.g. multipack crisps packaging and tinsNot widely recycled and sometimes excessive.

 7. PVC cling film PVC is a contaminant to the recycling process.

 8. Bottle tops/caps Frequently unrecycled because of citizens uncertainty about what to do with bottle tops. Often lost in the recycling process due to their size, and frequently littered.

 9. Single-use drinks bottles Not always recycled, despite all councils collecting plastic bottles, and frequently littered. Potential for refill options in some situations.

10. Non-recyclable coloured plastics (including carbon black plastic e.g. some ready-meal trays, premium meat trays, some prepacked fish trays)Undetectable for recycling by equipment used in sorting process. WRAP is encouraging members to have this issue resolved by the end of 2019. 

 11. Fruit & veg punnets/trays e.g. grape, tomato, mushroom etc Plastic could be avoided in some instances where food waste would not increase. 

 12. Internal plastic trays e.g. trays for premium biscuits Sometimes avoidable. 

 13. Disposable plastic cups Designed to be used once and often not recycled, particularly when used outside of the home due to lack of recycling collections.

 14. Fruit/veg stickers Contaminates compost, not recycled. 

 15. Plastic cup lids (hot beverage cups) Often made from a type of plastic which is not recyclable. They are often not recycled by citizens. 

 16. Plastic coffee pods Generally not recycled because of their small size.

 17. Milk and salad dressing jiggers, single serving pots and sachets e.g. on-the-go salads, milk sticks, condiments, cosmetics and samples Potentially avoidable. Often made from plastic which is not recycled and too small to be detected in the recycling process.

 18. Tear off tamper evident strips on containers Not recycled.

 19. Teabags Can contain or be made from non-degradable plastic and so contaminate compost when recycled with food waste. Non-degradable plastic is sometimes used in ‘normal’ tea bags, as well as those made from nylon.

WRAP will now be developing individual action plans with UK Plastics Pact members to ensure that progress is made on this longer list as quickly as possible. In addition these lists will be kept under constant review by WRAP to ensure the target of eliminating problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging is met by 2025.


Notes to Editor

  • Hyperlink to report and video
  • The UK Plastics Pact was the first initiative of its kind in the world. It is being replicated in other countries to form a powerful global movement for change as part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative. It is led by WRAP, the sustainability experts. For more information see 
  • *There are some necessary exemptions. For some items, where technological innovation is required, it will take longer, for example the use of PVC in pharmaceutical blister packaging and the use of straws in drinks cartons. There are also social and medical reasons where plastic straws may also continue to need to be used. 
  • First established in 2000, WRAP is a not for profit organisation which works with governments, businesses and citizens to create a world in which we source and use resources sustainably. Our impact spans the entire life-cycle of the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the products we buy, from production to consumption and beyond.