Blog 30.05.19

A quick WRAP up: What a year of plastics action achieved

Recycling locally is in. This week, Malaysia followed China in taking a tougher stance on plastic waste imports – with mislabelled waste sent back to its country of origin. It’s time to think how the UK can create a better system for handling plastic waste.

Enter the UK Plastics Pact. The Pact, signed by businesses representing 85% of plastic sold through UK supermarkets, sets four targets. By 2025, signatories will eliminate problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging; make 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable; ensure 70% is actually recycled or composted; and achieve 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging.

Last week, WRAP released the first annual report sharing progress against the Pact. I took a look: What’s going well? What could go better?

Highlighting the good

Exciting, innovative examples of progress are shared throughout the report. Black plastic – a challenge to recycle – is unsurprisingly a frequent focus. While many companies are working to curb its usage, Unilever is collaborating with waste management companies to introduce a new black pigment that can be detected by infra-red scanners and therefore recycled. Good news for TREssemé shampoo fans!

PepsiCo’s recycling trail of Walker’s Crisps packaging in partnership with TerraCycle is another interesting step forward – and one that I’m sure the many #PacketInWalkers consumers who posted back crisp packets last year will be intrigued to discover.

But a real strength of the report is its tabular company-by-company format. Transparently communicating the achievements and planned actions of individual signatories holds each accountable. It allows those who perform well to be recognized and rewarded. And the promise that WRAP will report on progress twice a year should maintain momentum towards the Pact’s goals.

A few future asks

The report style does – in a way – provide an overview of progress towards the Pact. But you have to work for it. There’s no simple summary tracking progress towards delivering the aims of the Pact’s Roadmap – which identifies key outcomes for April 2019 and a potential path to 2025. Indeed, the report is limited in scope, covering only a “selection of members.”

This isn’t helped by the different ways that companies report progress. Some, such as Aldi, report tonnes of plastic reduced by actions. Others leave us guessing. Greater consistency in reporting – in terms of the outcomes of actions rather than just the fact the activity was completed – would aid understanding.

It is year one. It’s clear companies are taking action. But it’s not easy to understand what exactly this action means. There’s an exciting story to tell here – and I’m eager to see if the next WRAP report makes it more accessible.

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