Plastic resource efficiency and recycling charity RECOUP has unveiled its latest findings in the annual UK Household Plastic Packaging Collection Survey, pointing to a notable decline in plastic packaging use and collection quantities in the country.

This marks the first year-on-year reduction, highlighting shifts in both the quantity placed on the market and amounts collected.

The survey estimates a decrease of approximately 70,000 tonnes (t) in the quantity of household plastic packaging introduced to the UK market.

Concurrently, the quantities collected by local authorities at the kerbside have also seen a dip, amounting to nearly 30,000t, representing a 5% reduction.

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Kerbside provision plateau and collection rates

The development of kerbside provision has plateaued, with all UK local authorities having collected plastic bottles for recycling since 2019.

However, there remains a gap in the collection of plastic pots, tubs, and trays, with only 88% of authorities participating – a figure unchanged from 2021. Similarly, plastic films and flexibles collection has dropped from 13% to 12%, marking the sixth consecutive year of decline.

This translates to an overall collection rate of 42% for all household plastic packaging, including 63% for plastic bottles, 39% for plastic pots, tubs, and trays, and 7% for plastic films and flexibles.

The UK’s overall recycling rate for plastic packaging from household and commercial sources stands at 52%.

Challenges and communication efforts

Local authorities are facing challenges with their collection contracts and infrastructure, with the looming changes from Simpler Recycling and Extended Producer Responsibility and Deposit Return Schemes.

While dates for these schemes have been communicated, payments from the new packaging Extended Producer Responsibility schemes are still pending.

Policy changes alone may not address the complexities faced by local authorities, emphasising the need for proactive efforts to prevent a decline or stagnation in household plastic collections.

Citizen recycling behaviour insights

The survey also highlights a need for increased focus on plastic packaging citizen communications and behaviour change programmes.

RECOUP’s UK Citizen Plastics Recycling Behaviors Insights Survey 2023 reveals a concerning 7% annual drop in citizens claiming to recycle plastic drinks bottles every time, now standing at 88%. Partnering with Durham County Council, Pledge2Recycle Plastics witnessed a 2% increase, reaching 97%.

Anne Hitch, Business and Project Development lead at RECOUP, emphasised the importance of prioritising investment in plastics recycling communications to improve kerbside tonnages and the quality of plastics.

Communication campaigns by local authorities, undertaken by 57%, show significant inconsistency in messaging. This includes conflicting guidance on whether lids should be on or off bottles and packaging requirements such as being empty, rinsed, washed, flattened, or squashed.

Tom McBeth, Policy & Infrastructure manager at RECOUP, commented on the survey, highlighting the reduction in packaging placed on the market and the need for local authorities to understand the funding available to enhance plastic packaging collection from consumers.