On the 25th April 2018 42 leading companies and a number of industrial organisations launched the Plastic Pact in conjunction with WRAP and the New Plastics Foundation.
4 pledges are to be realised by 2025:
- 100% of packaging to be recyclable, reusable or compostable
- 70% of packaging effectively recycled or composted
- Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single use packaging
- 30% recycled content across all packaging
Amongst the signatories were the major supermarkets (with the exception of Co-op and Iceland) and some other big name brands including Pret and Unilever.
A cynic might wonder how much of this is down to China’s ban on all imports of plastic and other waste. The result is that a UK market for recycled material needs to be created (30% recycled content across all packaging) to stop waste management costs escalating and recycling levels stalling or falling. It also requires means waste streams to be easy to recycle so it is worthwhile investing in the recycling infrastructure and technology (eliminate problematic packaging).
Having already looked at the supermarket packaging a few weeks ago I wondered how much of this was new, or was already in their plans?
The first pledge regarding the recyclability or otherwise of the packaging is, for the majority of supermarkets at least, nothing new. Most of the supermarkets, with the exception of Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda had already pledged they were going to do just that. (Can one assume that the details of the Plastic Pact were already signed and ready for delivery earlier this year?)
As for the recycled content, this is generally an increase. Aldi and Lidl had already pledged to go further, with 50% made from recycled plastic by 2025, Waitrose were looking at the feasibility of increasing the recycled content, but there wasn’t much from the other supermarkets.
The goal to eliminate problematic or unnecessary single use plastic I think this, if it is monitored and the definition of unnecessary or problematic is not too loose, could be a positive outcome. There had been some plans to remove hard to recycle items such as black plastic trays (which of course will have to go if they are to meet the 100% recyclable, compostable commitment), or to trial some plant based cartons for tomatoes, but, with the exception of Iceland, there had been no plans to eliminate any packaging, just reduce it – this usually comes by reducing weight and making the plastics thinner. If interpreted in the spirit of the commitment, this could really push a change in the supermarkets’ attitudes. But, I don’t think it will mean glass milk bottles back on the shelves or cardboard punnets and paper bags in the fruit and veg aisles.
They haven’t yet said how they are going to do this, and I can’t find details of who will be monitoring it all (hopefully the New Plastics Foundation), but it does hopefully mean that some of the suppliers to the supermarkets will also be working to eliminate some plastics. Of course, this is just a first step and I would personally like to see the use of plastics stopped wherever possible as soon as possible. Whilst I don’t expect to be able to go to Waitrose and buy much other than onions and carrots free from added packaging in the near future, I shall be watching with interest to see whether the promises made last month are kept and whether there is any significant reduction in the almost 1 million tonnes of plastic packaging coming out of the supermarkets each year.