The UK Plastics Pact One Year On: Foundations are laid; let’s build on them

By Marcus Gover CEO, WRAP

The UK Plastics Pact One Year On: Foundations are laid; let’s build on them

All of us gathered at the launch of The UK Plastics Pact last year  – politicians, business leaders and my colleagues at WRAP - were aware of the unique opportunity we had to redefine our relationship with this material which had become part of our daily lives. And to fix forever the broken plastic packaging system for the good of the economy, and the environment.

Within that, we also knew the scale of the challenge ahead. A disillusioned and angry public would not accept anything other than radical, swift, change which would bring an end to the damage plastic pollution was causing to our countryside and oceans.

 

The vision of The UK Plastics Pact was clear: to find a solution which is realistic, systemic and scalable; which retains the significant value of plastic and avoids the risk of simply displacing the environmental cost elsewhere.

This has been challenging – my colleagues at WRAP have had to navigate through a multitude of stakeholders with sometimes competing agendas and with their own significant external economic challenges. The important, but often visceral external debate, covered the whole spectrum from protectionists to outright abolitionists – some of which has only served to heighten confusion for the public.

Quick fixes and niche ideas were tempting in the face of this pressure. So all of us involved in the Pact have had to hold each other to account, maintain focus and work together. It has led to some difficult and challenging conversations. And I am grateful to the members for embracing the journey in a genuine spirit of collaboration. And for approaching this endeavour with honesty and integrity. We need to maintain that as we move forward.

To mark the first anniversary, we are delighted to showcase just some of the progress which has been made over this last year. I am astonished at how far our 76 business members have come in that short time in making meaningful change.  And I am very proud of WRAP UK Director Peter Maddox and his team for keeping The UK Plastics Pact focused and on track. We took on a hugely difficult task, and they are rising to the challenge every day.

It might not have been noticed by shoppers, but our supermarket shelves and shopping centres are undergoing a quiet revolution.

Black plastic has disappeared from many product lines (and Pact members are working on methods to correct the current problem which means it is not detected in the sorting process); major supermarkets are looking to see which plastic they can safely remove from produce lines without driving up food waste; plastic pizza bases are starting to disappear, and millions more of our plastic drinks bottles contain increased quantities of recycled content. To name just a few.

Whilst the Pact members can boast lots of quick success; now come the more difficult discussions and decisions. We need to face those whilst still moving at speed.

How, for example, to tackle the complex issue of plastic film? It is the biggest threat to marine life and the least traceable through the system. Without finding a solution to this we will not achieve the Pact’s targets. We are in the process of developing a strategy on this.

How to embrace the legislation potentially coming down the line; not as a threat but as aligned and an added driver towards achieving our targets.  WRAP played a key role in bringing together stakeholders to present recommendations on the reform of the proposed extended producer responsibility regime and other areas of the development of the Government’s Resource and Waste Strategy. We were delighted to see the extent that the proposals in the Strategy align with and can supercharge the targets in the Pact. 

How to really start to embrace innovation in a way which harnesses its potential but also applies all the necessary rigour and robust thinking. There’s some fantastic new thinking going on out there; let’s have the courage to bring it on board. I’m excited to see what ideas come to light through the £1.4 million UK Circular Plastics Flagship Projects Competition, which is looking to engage Britain's best scientists and innovators to help move the country towards more circular and sustainable approaches to plastics.

How to scale up support and help for the public to recycle more, and better. I’m asking all businesses, local authorities and others to have a link to our Recycle Now website, and get behind our great campaigns. I also want to see more businesses start to communicate with customers directly using the proven consistency of the Recycle Now approach including On Pack Recycling Labelling through OPRL.

This first year of The UK Plastics Pact has been about building solid foundations and setting a clear direction of travel for collaborative change towards 2025. Moving forward there will be tough decisions to make, new innovations to foster, and investment to be made – all at great pace and with an urgency that reflects the scale of the problem we are tackling. 

We in WRAP are driving members to move quicker and more ambitiously without waiting for 2025. For example, as far as possible, by the end of this year, they should remove polystyrene and PVC from food packaging and by the end of 2020 they should be eradicated from non-food products. Also by the end of 2019 members are being requested to only use plastic that can be sorted effectively in the recycling process, such as adopting ‘detectable black’ pigments.

Pact members have shown that when government and the public demanded change, they stepped up. The UK Plastics Pact lit the flame for the rest of the world to follow. We have great momentum and we have to accelerate. But I’m convinced that the rewards will be worth it. We are on the way to transforming our relationship with plastic forever into one which is healthy for society, the economy, and the environment.