Plastics, recycling, and the Easter egg challenge

Dr Liz Goodwin, CEO, WRAP

If you like chocolate, then you’re never too old to enjoy an Easter egg.  I’m no exception, and I was happy to indulge in the Easter gift my husband gave me over the weekend.

Understandably, amidst the pleasure, I was mindful of the packaging and ensured that as far as possible, the different (inedible!) components were sent for recycling.  Undoubtedly, chocolate manufacturers have been making improvements year-on-year, reducing the amount of packaging or making sure more of it can be recycled.  I’ve certainly noticed the change as I’ve been buying Easter eggs for friends and family.  But as MP Jo Swinson was quick to point out in her annual egg packaging survey there’s still some way to go.

Of course, one of the reasons the packaging is there is to protect the often fragile eggs from damage. After all, no one wants to receive their long-awaited egg in pieces before they’ve even had the chance to unwrap it. The challenge for the manufacturers is to find ways of presenting their goods in an attractive way which protect and clearly display the contents while minimising the amount of packaging, and making what there is, recyclable.

It was good to see Nestle showing this year what can be done, becoming the first manufacturer to make its entire range of Easter egg packaging 100% recyclable and I know that other brands, too, have been heading in the right direction.

One of the trickier components of packaging like this is the rigid plastic – currently, only a tiny fraction of this material (plastic bottles aside) is collected by local authorities from households. This is in spite of studies which show that householders are keen to recycle these sorts of material, which include pots, tubs and trays.
Around 90% (more than one million tonnes) of rigid plastic packaging every year is not being recycled, and is either used for energy recovery, or ends up in landfill, so it is not surprising that more local authorities are exploring opportunities for collecting it.

Unfortunately, not all local authorities have access to rigid plastics processing facilities and we’re very aware that infrastructure has an important role to play if we’re to continue to reduce the amount we’re sending to landfill and reduce the potential carbon impact (recycling a tonne of rigid plastics saves half a tonne of greenhouse gases).

The number of facilities offering sorting and processing for plastics is growing, and WRAP’s mixed plastics loan fund is targeted at this.  The fund provides financial support to reprocessors and aims to help stimulate the growth of reprocessing facilities, making it easier for local authorities to find outlets in the UK.

One of the most recent loans provided by this scheme was to ECO Plastics in Lincolnshire. The loan means the company will be able to increase its plastics reprocessing capacity to 150,000 tonnes a year. The facility will employ an additional 12 local people, creating sustainable jobs in addition to further developing the UK's green economy with home-grown processing and manufacturing - turning 'waste' into resources.

Which has to be good news all round.


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