Of the 141m tonnes of plastic meals and beverage packaging produced yearly, simply 14% is recycled, in response to the Ellen MacArthur Basis.
The issue lies in overconsumption, says Adam Herriott, senior specialist at WRAP – a British NGO advocating for change in the way in which packaging is produced and disposed of. When an unlimited variety of merchandise consumed are wrapped in single-use packaging, it’s all too simple to throw it within the bin with out eager about its subsequent stage of its life.
“It is likely to be that packaging is recyclable and we’re not doing it correctly, or we’re recycling it correctly, however the packaging itself isn’t simply recycled,” he defined. “It may be very tough to separate [different types of polymers] from one another to have the ability to recycle one thing new.”
But when governments, trade, and shoppers take accountability, recycling could be improved and plastic air pollution eradicated, suggests WRAP.
Taking a regulatory method to the plastic downside
Within the UK, change is afoot throughout the plastics regulatory panorama. On 1 October of this yr the UK will ban most varieties of single-use plastics – together with these which can be compostable, biodegradable or recycled – used for bowls, plates or trays. Single-use plastic cutlery and balloon sticks may even be banned.
Whereas single-use beverage bottles usually are not affected by the ban, they’re implicated within the Plastic Packaging Tax which got here into pressure final yr. It applies at a fee of round £211 (€246) per tonne of plastic packaging with lower than 30% recycled plastic. The thought is to assist enhance recycled content material packaging, drive demand for supplies to be collected, and guarantee that these supplies can proceed to be recycled, defined Herriott.
Prolonged producer accountability (EPR) has additionally been tabled within the UK, however packaging charges have been deferred till 2024. EPR places the onus on packaging importers and suppliers to pay for the gathering, disposal, and recycling of their supplies. This could encourage manufacturers and retailers to provide packaging that’s as recyclable as potential, we had been advised.
The UK authorities has additionally set nationwide recycling charges to hit within the coming years. By 2025, no less than 55% of municipal waste have to be recycled, with the goal growing to 65% by 2035. However what’s lacking right here, in response to Herriott, is consistency. Recyclability is inherently linked to recycling infrastructure which may considerably fluctuate, council to council.
“The place I dwell, we’ve one massive bin the place all our recycling goes into, after which it goes to a different metropolis to get sorted into totally different supplies. And the place different individuals dwell, they’ve bought plenty of totally different containers and put plastic in a single, cans and tins in one other, their glass in one other, and paper in one other…They could be capable of recycle extra, they usually don’t should undergo further processes to type,” defined the senior specialist.
“There are many various things taking place, they usually all want to come back collectively to work coherently.”
Sharing accountability amongst suppliers, manufacturers and shoppers
As as to if meals and beverage producers are taking sufficient accountability to counter the plastic downside, Herriott believes ‘there may be at all times extra that may be finished’.
And in meals, there are further specs that must be thought of. Not solely does the packaging should be meals grade, that means it’s secure for meals merchandise, but it surely additionally has to increase shelf life – which is especially vital given the environmental influence of meals waste.
“Meals waste far outstrips the influence that any packaging has. If meals waste had been a rustic, its greenhouse fuel emissions can be the third largest on the planet. It’s a large concern.”
An apparent means manufacturers and producers can enhance recyclability is by shifting away from multi-layered packaging in the direction of mono supplies. Pouch packaging is an efficient instance of this. Being historically comprised of multi-layered packaging supplies – notably aluminium sandwiched between layers of plastic – impacts its recyclability. In accordance with the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL), the sort of packaging can’t be recycled by native councils within the UK because of lack of assets, infrastructure and/or expertise do cope with the sort of materials.
One resolution is to modify to a mono-material pouch comprised of polypropylene, together with the spout and cap. Final yr, child meals model Little Freddie’s turned the primary to make this swap within the UK.
Mono-materials are so much simpler to recycle, defined Herriott. “You haven’t bought to separate the whole lot out. There are many issues we could possibly be doing to make packaging extra environment friendly as effectively.”
As to the accountability of the end-user, effectively, the ‘buck stops’ with shoppers, defined the senior specialist. Even when manufacturers and retailers guarantee all their packaging is 100% recyclable, the tip objective is not going to be achieved if the buyer doesn’t get rid of it into the right bin. “It’s actually vital that customers are doing their half.”
On the similar time, there may be ‘apparent’ confusion surrounding what can and may’t be recycled, and variations in native authority recycling capabilities can add to that. Native authorities can educate their residents on what to recycle and which bins to make use of. That may assist give shoppers transparency in addition to confidence that what they’re placing of their recycling bin is definitely being recycled.
The OPRL label additionally goes a great distance in serving to to encourage recycling, and Herriott believes shoppers are attending to know the inexperienced and black labels (inexperienced for recyclable, black for non-recyclable) effectively.
The F&B packaging improvements encouraging higher recyclability
Innovation in meals and beverage packaging can assist in some ways, from decreasing virgin plastic use to encouraging higher recyclability. And a number of the most enjoyable improvements in Herriott’s opinion are literally amongst the most straightforward.
Some retailers have began to take away the pigment from their own-brand milk bottles, for instance. As an alternative of the basic inexperienced, purple or blue pigments, the brand new tops at the moment are made from clear plastic. Supermarkets Sainsbury’s, Aldi, Waitrose, and Lidl are amongst the retailers to have made the swap to clear caps.
Each clear and colored lids are comprised of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), however solely clear lids could be recycled again into food-grade packaging.
Coca-Cola’s Sprite is one other instance of a product present process a color change. The enduring inexperienced plastic bottles have been switched to clear plastic, making them simpler to recycle into new bottles domestically.
Different improvements of notice embody swapping plastic trays utilized in meat packaging for cardboard options. Earlier this yr, Sainsbury’s changed the plastic packaging on its ‘by Sainsbury’s’ steak vary, ensuing within the removing of 70% plastic per tray. The retailer expects the transfer to take away 10m items of plastic, and 249 tonnes, per yr.
Sainsbury’s additionally made the choice to avoid wasting on plastic by swapping conventional, plastic tray packaging for a brand new vacuum-packed various throughout its mince vary. Being extra light-weight means taking carbon emissions off the street, whereas nonetheless defending the meat, defined Herriott.
However though Sainsbury’s expects its new vacuum-packed packaging to avoid wasting 450m tonnes of plastic yearly, its rollout raised questions – suggesting not all improvements hit throughout the board. On the time, Sian Sutherland, co-founder of marketing campaign group A Plastic Planet, mentioned that whereas there’s a saving within the weight of plastic used, switching to versatile plastics over inflexible ones is ‘no extra inexperienced than altering from a petroleum to a diesel car’.
“Versatile plastics are nearly unimaginable to recycle, particularly the place they’re meals contaminated. The previous, inflexible plastic packaging would no less than have gone into recycling, nonetheless restricted the UK’s programs are.”
Herriott acknowledged that some packaging ‘tweaks’ profit some areas, however could not in others. “However there’s typically a excellent news story all the identical.”
You possibly can take heed to FoodNavigator’s interview with Adam Herriott, senior specialist at WRAP, on The FoodNavigator Podcast right here, or wherever you entry your podcasts.