RECOUP: Working from Home Boosts Recycling Rates

Plastics recycling charity, RECOUP, has published its UK Household Plastics Collection Survey, revealing that whilst UK recycling rates are on the rise, the overall rate for April 2019 – March 2020 remains at 39%.

The 2020 UK household collection survey covers retrospective data from 2019 and demonstrates that up until March 2020, the overall rate increased by 2%.   [The collection rate of plastics packaging recycling April 2019 to March 2020 is Plastic bottles – 59%; Plastic pots, tubs, and trays – 33%; Plastic film – 7%; All household plastic packaging– 39%.]

Up until March of this year, indications were that citizens were still failing to engage with the recycling message and plastics packaging that could be recycled by Local Authorities simply was not being given the opportunity to be processed into new products. More recent statistics indicate the change in lifestyles of citizens, working from home, homeschooling, less travel and indeed less on-the-go food consumption have led to a significant plastics recycling rate increase from household collections.

Steve Morgan, Policy & Infrastructure Manager commented: “Local Authorities report an increase in excess of 20% of recycling in the first lockdown period,  evidence which has been backed up by RECOUP members Veolia who have seen a 10% increase in kerbside plastics collected this year.  This is a sizeable increase on figures from the 2020 RECOUP Plastics Collection Survey report which showed only a 2% increase in collection rates during 2019. With more people being at home and many changing their ways of working during 2020, initial figures do suggest that when people have the easy access to be able to recycle plastic that they do choose to do the right thing.

As we all reflect on what has been a difficult year, there have been loud calls for a green recovery, but there are questions about what this looks like and how can it be translated into tangible actions with sustainability at the heart of it. There has never been a greater need for the UK economy to take every opportunity to prosper and recover than now. The loss from the plastic packaging not collected for recycling in terms of resource value cannot be underestimated.

RECOUP Citizen & Stakeholder Engagement Manager, Anne Hitch, said: “We must not fail to make the most of the opportunity we have been given and continue to engage with citizens to drive recycling rates even further, and help them understand how, by doing their bit in their own homes, they are reducing plastic pollution and giving plastic the opportunity to be kept in the loop.  It is crucial we make the most of driving sustained behaviour change whilst we move onto the ‘new norm.’

RECOUP is in a unique position through their knowledge and experience of the plastics recycling value chain to understand each part of the collection, sorting, and reprocessing infrastructure and capabilities in the UK.   The charity can translate the opportunities and challenges within the sector into meaningful and positive environmental action.

Tim Duret, Director of Sustainable Technology, Veolia UK and Ireland commented: “2020 has seen a change in our waste flows as people are spending a lot more time at home than previously and Veolia has seen a 10% increase in kerbside plastics collected compared to the year prior. It is clear that people are making an effort to recycle more, with the results from RECOUP showing that we are going in the right direction with plastics recycling growing, we need a larger increase, and we need this faster.

What remains critical is that we back up our environmental responsibility with legislation to create impactful change. The Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy and Plastics Packaging Tax will provide the financial drivers for manufacturers to eco-design their products, increasing recycling and simplifying the process, keeping materials in a circular loop. This will also inspire a forecast £10bn of investment from the waste sector over the next ten years, allowing for greater innovation and development of domestic infrastructure which together will increase recycling, reduce carbon emissions, create green jobs and preserve biodiversity.”

A summary of the report can be downloaded from the RECOUP website. The full edition of the survey will be available for RECOUP members from Monday 7th December.

In line with RECOUP policy, the report will not be in the open domain until 3 months after its publication to its members. To find out more about supporting RECOUP, please contact, enquiry@recoup.org.

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