Steady Progress in Plastics Packaging Collected for Recycling – but Consumer Confusion is a Concern

Plastics Recycling Charity, RECOUP, have launched their annual UK Household Plastics Collections Survey.

Local Authorities are continuing to perform. There is greater consistency in materials collected for recycling from kerbside schemes that is perceived, and this needs to be exploited to drive material quality. Whilst just 4 Local Authorities in the UK do not provide a kerbside recycling collection service that includes plastic bottles, all of them aim to have a service in place by 2019. Also, nearly 80% of Local Authorities collect plastic pots, tubs and trays as part of their kerbside collection service.

Whilst the 2018 Survey reports 527,010 tonnes of plastics packaging is collected for recycling from UK households in 2017 the data reflects a collection rate of 59% for plastic bottles and 33% for plastic pots, tubs and trays.

Although there are obvious opportunities to increase the quantities collected for recycling, the quality of material is increasingly becoming a concern.

Local Authorities report the reasons for consumer confusion include conflicting national media messages, language barriers, and people just “not getting it”. 47% Local Authorities in the UK also reported they received budget cuts for providing waste and recycling collections and communications, and they are unable to put the resources in place to deliver communications and behaviour change programmes with their residents.

There is good news. RECOUP report that there is an appetite from the Local Authorities to do more. It was reported 49% are planning a communication about plastics recycling, with 91% targeting reducing contamination in their communications. Importantly nearly 100 are interested in a match funded partnership to deliver plastics recycling communications to residents.

RECOUP Technical Manager, Steve Morgan stated “Although plastic bottles have seen the biggest increase in collections for 3 years, with volatile export markets the drive for quality is needed throughout the plastics recycling value chain. The opportunities are there. There are still nearly 600,000 tonnes of rigid plastics packaging that could be collected for recycling, but the consumer is often unaware how they can make a difference by their individual actions, both by what plastics packaging they can recycle in their local area and how to present it for recycling. There is still work to be done to develop reliable markets for some fractions of plastics, and to remove some of the discrepancies within the detail of how pot and tray recycling messages are given to the public.”

Cutting the Confusion – New Pledge2Recycle Plastics Initiative

RECOUP’s national plastics recycling initiative Pledge 4 Plastics has been given a new look! Now known as Pledge 2 Recycle Plastics, it will continue to provide resources and be a catalyst in supporting consumer communications in plastics recycling across the UK.

Several successful campaigns have already been carried out under this new branding centred around ‘cutting the confusion’ of plastics recycling and educating the consumer about the recycling journey. The campaigns have included:

•  Community roadshows in high streets and events in North Lincolnshire, Peterborough, Corby and across Norfolk.
•  Leaflet campaigns.
•  A student design challenge and fashion show in Norwich.

A new suite of resources has been produced, which can be easily adapted for each Local Authority.  The resources are aimed at tackling the detail of how to present plastics packaging for recycling and identifying the key items of confusion that inadvertently lead to contamination.

As the UK moves towards Brexit, one legislative option is that the UK generates a producer fund which would be responsible for the delivery of national communications to raise awareness of recycling and increase participation – and would directly support Local Authority campaigns at a local level.

The Pledge2Recycle Plastics activations have identified some common items of confusion across most Local Authority areas:

  •  Toothpaste
  •  Pill blister packs
  •  Bubblewrap
  •  Cleaning products, trigger and pump sprays
  •  Bottle tops on or off
  •  Black and coloured plastics
  •  Film lids and absorbent layers

Anne Hitch, Communications Manager at RECOUP commented “The work delivered through Pledge2Recycle Plastics this summer has been enlightening. We have gained so much knowledge about just what is turning off recyclers and how we need to re-engage to answer their questions and misconceptions about plastics. It has been rewarding to engage at grass roots in a way to inspire and challenge consumers to recycle and prevent plastics resources ending up in landfill or the natural environment.”

One activation has been followed by the BBC ‘Inside Out’ East camera crews and features in the programme aired on 17th September 2018

The RECOUP Survey is available for FREE download from the RECOUP website. The report also includes insight into litter and disposal ‘On-the-Go’, recycled plastics markets, and European plastics recycling ambitions, which covers the use of Extended Producer Responsibility, Deposit Return Schemes, and legislative and policy developments.

Subscribe to our newsletter