WDC joins call for legally binding targets on packaging waste in the UK

Responding to new waste and recycling figures published by the UK government today, WDC, along with 17 environmental groups co-ordinated by the UK’s Wildlife and Countryside Link are warning that the UK Government must set ambitious and legally binding targets to deal with the growing ‘packaging waste mountain.’

The call comes as the latest figures, released today, show that overall recycling rates have continued to stall and packaging waste recycling has fallen from 2013. Although the packaging waste recycling rate in 2016 had increased from 2014 (up to 71.4% from 64.1%), it is still lower than in 2013 when 72.7% of packaging waste was recycled.  The amount of recyclable packaging waste ending up in landfill or destroyed is up by 15.7% compared to 2013 - an extra 446,000 tonnes.

Polluted beach
Polluted beach

Key statistics from the new Defra data show that:

  • Overall recycling rates increased only very slightly in 2016 to 44.6% in 2016 up from 44.3 per cent in 2015 and down from 44.9 per cent in 2014
  • More than half (54.5%) of our waste which is recyclable ends up in landfill or destroyed - over 15 million tonnes
  • The gap between waste and recycling has grown due to stalled recycling rates with recyclable waste ending up in landfill in 2016 up 1.5% in 2016 or 226,000 tonnes from the previous year this due to the increase in the volume of waste despite the higher recycling rate
  • There is some positive news on plastics packaging recycling, with plastic packaging recycling notably up by 20% and the amount heading to landfill or being destroyed down  by 9.65%
  • However plastic and wood remain the two least recycled packaging materials with 44.9% and 30.9% respectively. This shows little movement from the previous year (2014) when rates were 37.9% and 31.4%, although wood recycling is declining every year
  • Paper and cardboard packaging waste going to landfill or destroyed in 2016 was shockingly up by 110% from 2013, wood is up by more than half (52.6%) and glass is up 3.95%
  • However plastic packaging waste ending up in landfill or destroyed has fallen almost 20%: 1,245,000 tonnes of plastic waste in 2016 down from 1,546,000 in 2013, and metal is down by almost a third (33.1%) 

With China refusing to take our plastic, cardboard and paper waste adding an extra driver, it is essential that the UK Government takes urgent steps to slash UK waste production and revolutionise recycling, to give us the capacity to deal with waste sustainably. The UK Government has stepped-up on the issue of microbeads and they need to continue being a world leader by addressing waste production and management in the UK, not exporting problems to other nations.

Last Christmas the UK Government’s Secretary of State, Michael Gove announced a four point proposal to boost recycling by:   reducing the number of plastics in use to make recycling easier; cutting single-use plastics; improving the recycling rate, and making recycling easier for families. Groups including WDC are pushing for a definitive action plan to deliver these proposals and meet the UK Government’s ambition of zero avoidable waste by 2050, including setting legally-binding targets to: 

  • Reduce single-use plastics as the foremost priority, with clear timelines and measures by which to do so
  • Invest centrally in the UK recycling infrastructure, so that all plastics and other recyclable waste can be put in every household recycling bin nationwide by 2023
  • Once a comprehensive recycling infrastructure is in place, require all packaging to have a simple recyclable or non-recyclable label, as consumers are baffled by recycling labelling
  • Lay-out targets for each 5-year period from 2025-2050 on the percentage of recyclable plastic, wood, glass, metal, card and cardboard to be recycled, working towards their 100% recycling – zero waste target by 2050. A clear action plan is needed to achieve this
  • Reform Producer Responsibility Obligations to make producers financially responsible for the costs of their waste production, as 90% of the costs of waste disposal are currently footed by the taxpayer, and to incentivise eco-design for packaging