A new report by sustainable waste management company Biffa highlights significant opportunities to reduce plastic packaging waste in the UK.

The report, titled ‘The UK Journey to Circularity’, outlines a nine-point plan with achievable timelines for businesses, consumers, and the government.

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Standardisation of packaging materials across the country emerges as the largest potential contributor, with Biffa estimating that via adopting this, up to 0.8 million tonnes of plastic waste could be diverted from landfills by 2029.

This process would involve designing products for easier recycling by using consistent materials throughout.

Specifically, clear caps reduce contamination in recycled high-density polyethylene plastic, allowing bottles and caps to be recycled together into new products.

The report acknowledges the role of government legislation in achieving the targets. 

Extending the existing Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT), which mandates a minimum recycled content percentage in plastic packaging, could significantly boost recycling rates.

Biffa suggests increasing the mandated recycled content from the current estimated 40% to 75%, potentially saving an additional 0.5 to 0.75 million tonnes of plastic waste.

Beyond standardisation and legislation, Biffa’s plan explores other interventions:

  • Shift towards reusable packaging: This could divert an estimated 0.13 million tonnes of waste from landfills.
  • ‘Consumer pays’ schemes: Consumers paying for disposal services could incentivise responsible waste management, potentially recovering 0.35 million tonnes of waste.
  • Investment in non-mechanical recycling technologies: New technologies could handle complex plastics that are currently unrecyclable, potentially saving another 0.35 million tonnes.

Achieving these ambitious goals requires a multipronged approach, according to Carla Brian, head of Biffa Project Partnerships.

“Requirements for new infrastructure are necessary but hinge on when, and to what extent, changes in the supply chain are made. Efforts to make plastic packaging more circular could simplify (with standardisation, for example) or lessen the burden on existing waste management infrastructure,” said Brian.

Legislation plays a crucial role. Upcoming initiatives such as Simpler Recycling will lay the groundwork for a more circular economy while future legislation can further accelerate this progress.

Overlapping policies, including deposit return schemes and extended producer responsibility, can achieve similar goals if implemented effectively.

Educating businesses and consumers is also paramount.

Highlighting the environmental, financial, and societal benefits of a circular economy can help drive behavioural change.

Businesses already responsive to consumer demand for sustainable products and services will likely adapt faster to these changes.

Finally, investment beyond infrastructure is essential.

Funding research, development, and demonstration projects will help identify and validate best practices in circularity, paving the way for a more sustainable future.