A year after the UK's biggest supermarkets and food manufacturers signed the Plastic Pact, a new report reveals the progress that has been made
The list goes on and on: M&S replacing plastic cutlery and straws with wood and paper alternatives; Waitrose committing to stop selling plastic cutlery by the end of the year; Morrisons introducing a plastic-free fruit and veg aisle, estimated to save 156 tonnes of plastic annually; Tesco, Asda, and Aldi removing almost 700 tonnes of nonrecyclable polystyrene pizza bases; Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose, M&S, and Morrisons all trialling the removal of plastic packaging across a range of fresh produce lines; Boots, Hovis and Coca-Cola all experimenting with detailed recycling messages on their products; PepsiCo - owner of Walkers - launches the UK's first nationwide crisp recycling scheme.
These are just a few of the initiatives spurred by the launch a year ago this week of the UK Plastics Pact, which saw the UK's biggest supermarkets and food manufacturers pledge to tackle plastic pollution. They are gathered together in a new report released today by waste charity WRAP, which details the pact's achievements to date and plans for the future.
"When we launched The UK Plastics Pact a year ago, we knew that we had a monumental task on our hands," said WRAP CEO Marcus Gover. "Tackling plastics pollution remains high in the public consciousness, and citizens quite rightly want to see action from the businesses that put plastic packaging onto our supermarket shelves and into our cafes and restaurants. So I'm delighted to celebrate the first anniversary of the Pact by revealing the huge array of initiatives members have been working on over the past year."
The pact saw a raft of high profile firms such as Aldi, Lidl, Nestle, Unilever, PepsiCo, and many more come together to adopt a series of ambitious targets. By 2025, signatories pledged to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastic altogether, ensure 100 per cent of plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable, strive to make 70 per cent effectively recycled or composted, and reach an average of 30 per cent recycled content in all remaining plastic packaging.
The report outlines significant progress against each of these metrics. For example, Danone has announced that all evian bottles between 75cl and 1.5L produced for the UK market now contain 50 per cent recycled content; Unilever is making PG Tips biodegradeable; Morrisons is making egg boxes from paper pulp instead of polystyrene; and a growing number of supermarkets are encouraging customers to bring their own containers to self-service counters.
Among the most significant innovations catalysed by the pact is Unilever's invention of a new black pigment for the High Density Polyethylene bottles used for its brands TRESemmé and Lynx. Black plastic has long been a bete noire of environmentalists, as it has traditionally got its colour from carbon black pigments that absorb infra-red light and so render recycling plant sensors incapable of sorting them. But Unilever - working with waste management partners Veolia, SUEZ, Viridor, and TOMRA - has developed a new pigment that can be detected by waste sorting machines
From Unilever's own product range alone, the new pigment will save up to 2,500 tonnes of black plastic a year from landfill. The company is also making the technology freely accessible to other companies, meaning it should ultimately save many more thousands of tonnes of waste.
"Tackling plastic waste is complex and involves collaboration across the supply chain," said Helen Bird, strategic engagement manager at WRAP. "We welcome this move by Unilever and steps taken by waste management companies to trial the sorting of the packaging. We now call for wide scale adoption of detectable black pigments by brands and retailers, and the sorting and reprocessing of that packaging by the recycling sector."
The Plastic Pact is one of many UK schemes seeking to combat the scourge of single-use plastic. Just last week, recycling incentive scheme operator Greenredeem announced its pilot scheme to encourage recycling in schools had collected 60,000 bottles across 16 schools since January. Supported by Plastic Oceans UK and Grundon, the scheme installed recycling kiosks in 16 schools in the Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead and awarded them 5p per bottle collected. Following its success, the initiative will be rolled out to a further nine schools, taking the total to 25.
The UK currently uses around 13 billion single-use plastic bottles a year with a recycling rate which has plateaued at 57 per cent for the past five years. Three billion of those bottles end up being disposed of, incinerated or littered, finding their way into the countryside or marine environment. As such calls are growing for a wider range of incentive schemes to be introduced and the government is currently consulting on the nationwide introduction of a deposit return scheme (DRS). The Scottish government has also already confirmed it will go ahead with such a scheme.
Pressure is mounting on the packaging, recycling and retail industries to ensure they deliver on the ambitious targets proposed by the Plastics Pact. There have been rumours that some operators are pushing back against proposals for new taxes and producer responsibility rules that will provide firms with a further financial incentive to cut plastic waste levels. But at the same time innovative new technologies and trials are being deployed as companies rush to find the solutions that can bring an end to the scourge of plastic waste. The question, as always, is can they move fast enough?
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