British Plastics Federation | Big Plastic Count

The British Plastics Federation (BPF) believes in only using packaging when it is necessary and supports the growth of reuse systems in cases where it makes clear sense to do so. Reducing unnecessary waste should be a priority for everyone, as should ensuring as much of the waste we produce is recycled as possible. Considerable change and innovation is underway in the plastics industry and work is ongoing to scale up technologies and collection systems so that almost all the plastic commonly used for packaging can be recycled.

However, promoting the message that ‘recycling doesn’t work’ is unhelpful and could demotivate people from doing the right thing. Recycling does work. Recycling plastic saves between 30% and 80% of the carbon emissions generated by virgin plastic processing and manufacturing.[1] In 2021, 51% of plastic packaging in the UK was recycled and the amount of plastic recycled has increased 2.4 times since 2006.[2] Last year the UK recycled more of its plastic within the country than it exported for recycling – the first time this has happened.[3] There is clear progress that can be celebrated, although there is more work to be done.

Most of the plastic the UK uses could be recycled within the country by 2030, with only 1% going to landfill and very little exported, provided the right drivers are in place.[4] To achieve this, a number of things need to change, including investing in the UK’s recycling infrastructure, simplifying household collection schemes across the UK and collecting more plastic film and flexible packaging. The household collection of flexible packaging is common in Europe, with the UK being one of only a few countries yet to adopt the practice.[5] Collecting more of this material will support the growth of the UK’s chemical recycling industry, enabling far more plastic film and flexible packaging to be recycled. As UK infrastructure develops, the BPF is supporting the Flexible Plastic Fund and many supermarkets across the UK are also providing collection services.

In the meantime, simply substituting plastic packaging with other materials may not be the best thing for the environment, as found in a 2020 study by Imperial College London.[6] Other studies have also looked at what would happen if we replaced plastic packaging with alternatives. Two found that GHGs would increase nearly three times and a third found they would almost double.[7] Plastic packaging also protects and preserves products that have a far higher carbon impact than their packaging. The packaging for one kilogram of food on average creates 70 grams of CO2 but prevents 350 grams of CO2 due to food waste.[8]

A 2022 study by Bosch found that the UK ranked in the top three countries (out of 99) when it comes to avoiding food waste in the retail sector and ranked in the top 13 when it came to avoiding it in the home.[9] Storage, refrigeration, planning and adequate packaging all play a role in avoiding food waste.

The BPF firmly believes that it is best to use the right packaging when it has a proven benefit to the environment – rather than simply avoiding it – and for everyone to recycle as much as possible. Meanwhile, the UK plastics industry will continue to work hard to refine designs and ensure more and more of the plastic we rely upon every day can be easily recycled.

Read more from the BPF here.



[1] Voulvoulis et al., Imperial College London, ‘Examining Material Evidence’, The Carbon Fingerprint Report, Imperial College

[2] Environment Agency, National Packaging Waste Database: accessed 03.11.2021

[3] National Packaging Waste Database figures, 2021

[4] BPF Recycling Roadmap (2021)

[5] Plastics Recyclers Europe – Flexible Films Market in Europe: State of Play (2020)

[6] Imperial College – Examining Material Evidence: The Carbon Fingerprint (2020)

[7] Green Alliance – Fixing the System (2020), Denkstatt (2011), Franklin Associates (2018)

[8] Denkstatt – How Packaging Contributes to Food Waste Prevention (2017)

[9] Bosch: Food waste around the world

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