Eliminating problem plastics

25th June 2019

Eight problematic or unnecessary single-use plastics set to be eliminated under The UK Plastics Pact by the end of 2020. 19 other single-use plastic items are being investigated to look at ways of reducing their environmental impact through avoidance of their use, redesign, reuse and/or smarter recycling. 

Key points
The UK Plastics Pact identify eight problem plastics to be eliminated by the end of 2020.
19 more plastic items and materials will be actively investigated to test the viability for their continued use.
This is the first action under ‘Target One’ of The UK Plastics Pact.

A considered approach 

Plastics are used in all sorts of positive ways like protecting the food we buy and preventing it from becoming waste before it reaches our kitchens and fridges. However for all the positive applications and uses of plastic there are many that are problematic and unnecessary, exacerbating the issue of plastic waste in the natural environment. 

The actions that UK Plastics Pact business members are taking are the first steps towards ensuring that our supermarket shelves are free of problematic and unnecessary plastics. Solving these problems will require collaboration and effort from all businesses and involve a range of actions such as considering re-fills, improved packaging design and optimising recycling. A key element is also ensuring that citizens are both motivated to recycle, and are clear on what can be recycled and how to recycle it.

What are problematic and unnecessary plastics?  

Plastic packaging can be problematic or unnecessary:

  • If its use is avoidable or reusable options are available;
  • if it’s not recyclable or hampers the recycling process; or
  • if it pollutes our environment.

An action group of UK Plastics Pact members defined the term problematic or unnecessary as “Single-use plastic items where consumption could be avoided through elimination, reuse or replacement and items that, post-consumption, commonly do not enter recycling and composting systems, or where they do, are not recycled due to their format, composition or size.”

The eight to be eliminated 

  1. Disposable plastic cutlery 
  2. All polystyrene packaging 
  3. Cotton buds with plastic stems 
  4. Plastic stirrers 
  5. Plastic straws 
  6. Oxo-degradables that break down to create microplastics 
  7. PVC packaging 
  8. Disposable plastic plates and bowls 

And that’s just the beginning 

There are a further 19 plastic items and materials now being actively investigated by Pact members. For each, members will be required to develop and adopt solutions to address the issues associated with them through reuse, redesign and/or smarter recycling - by 2025. These include single-use drinks bottles, non-detectable black plastic packaging which doesn’t get picked up in the recycling process, and a range of flexible plastics and films in everyday use.  
 
 
For each of these items, Pact members will assess whether the following actions can justify continuing use:
 
  • Avoidable – can it be avoided in the context within which it is being used?
  • Replacement with reusable or alternative options
  • Design – selecting the type of plastic, design and manufacture to increase recyclability (using recycled content where practicable)
  • Investment in labelling, messaging and collections/recycling infrastructure to boost retrieval and recycling