Plastic recycling in the UK: A look at the current situation and the future

plastic recycling in the uk

Shampoo and shower gel bottles, drinks bottles, fruit punnets, ready meal trays, and toothpaste tubes – from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed, we use and consume products in plastic packaging. Not all of this plastic is recyclable, but the vast majority is and yet we’re still not recycling enough of it.

Plastic recycling at home

Our throwaway culture means we’re producing over 1.5m tonnes of plastic waste every year; despite over 90% of UK councils accepting recyclable plastic materials, we’re only recycling about a third of all the plastic packaging we consume. So why is this?

Well, there are many different types of plastic, some of which are recyclable and some of which are not, so this can confuse the consumer. Councils can help educate citizens within their area to encourage better recycling of plastic materials and help combat confusion; they can also clearly highlight what is recyclable in the area to ensure the right materials are being collected.

But how can the UK pull together as a whole to improve the rate of plastic recycling further, beyond educating citizens?

uk plastic recycling

Will a plastic tax help UK plastic recycling rates?

The government has suggested that a tax on single use plastics might be one way to combat this problem.

In last week’s autumn budget, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, announced that in 2018 the government will launch a call for evidence on whether a tax on single-use plastic (items such as straws, stirrers, takeaway containers, coffee cups and lids etc.) would help reduce consumption of these items as the 2015 plastic bag tax has helped reduce plastic bag usage.

Suez CEO, David Palmer-Jones, said: “Policy and taxation changes are welcome if they can help reduce the use of virgin materials in favour of more sustainable, recyclable products. Taxation changes to help the environment need to be part of a wider policy that marries the protection of our precious natural resources with a modern, sustainable, industrial strategy.”

plastic bottle deposit return scheme uk

Bottle deposit return schemes

Another suggestion to combat plastic waste is to adopt a bottle deposit return scheme in the UK. A deposit return scheme (DRS) would involve a small surcharge being added to the bottle at the point of sale with a refund being issued to the consumer when the bottles are returned.

Similar schemes have been implemented in Sweden, Germany, NSW in Australia, and certain parts of the US. Germany’s DRS has proved to be the most successful so far with 98.5% of refillable bottles being returned.

Scotland has committed to introducing a deposit return scheme to help reduce waste. They will be working with Zero Waste Scotland to design this. The Welsh government have also expressed an interest in adopting a DRS in Wales.

Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has announced that central government are now assessing the feasibility of introducing a bottle deposit return scheme in England; they will work with industry leaders to understand whether this is the best course of action.

Elena Polisano, Greenpeace Oceans campaigner, has commented: “We urgently need solutions, and we think a bottle return scheme like those being looked at by Michael Gove, and by the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments, is probably the best way to raise collection rates and turn that stream into a loop.”

The government is expected to come back with its findings on a potential DRS in December.

We’re committed to aiding the increase of recycling rates across the UK; our recycling app provides handy reminders to residents to pop their waste and recycling out for collection; it also allows councils to clearly communicate key recycling messages to citizens – telling them which items can be recycled in their area.

The Agile@HOME app can be downloaded via iTunes or the PlayStore.

If you work for the council and want to discuss our app in more detail, just get in touch.

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