Plastic Packaging – Shedding Light on the UK Data

6th March 2018

by Dr Dominic Hogg

This independent report examines whether the UK system is really as effective in promoting the recycling of plastic packaging as official figures suggest. The analysis strongly suggests that it is not.

Official statistics say that in 2015, UK households and businesses generated 2.26m tonnes of plastic packaging waste. This number reflects the amount of plastic packaging producers report that they place on the market.

By analysing what is known about the amount and composition of UK waste, the report finds that the amount of plastic packaging waste is more likely to be around 3.5 million tonnes. The lowest plausible estimate is far higher than the official figure. It further estimates that the UK may well have failed to meet its plastic packaging recycling targets under the EU Waste Framework Directive in each year from 2008-2012.

A key problem is that, in calculating the recycling rate for plastic packaging, the quantity reported as recycled often includes moisture and other contaminants. This is true especially where the material is exported (and the majority is). The material reported as ‘placed on the market’ is effectively measured when it is clean, dry and free from extraneous material and contaminants. This approach is structurally inclined to over-estimate the recycling rate, and the report indicates how it could be remedied.

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