Industry experts propose top five issues for plastics and recycling

18 Apr 2018

The Packaging Society has published a statement on plastics and recycling.

Following recent media attention through programmes such as Blue Planet II, the Packaging Society Board and its members have identified the five issues that should be addressed by UK Government, retailers, consumers and the packaging industry.

The Board have identified the top five issues as, plastic waste management, plastic material options, plastic material substitution options, market alignment and economics.

Ian Davis, Chair of the Packaging Society, said: 'While the packaging issues are of a global nature, it is essential that urgent action is taken in the UK as a major contribution to tackling the problems.'

Get it together

There is a significant lack of alignment throughout the UK in the processes for plastic waste collection, separation and recycling which undermines consumer recycling culture and detrimentally affects consumer recycling educational opportunities.

There is a need to align recycling specifications and processes throughout the UK to provide improved clarity to consumers and help drive a cultural shift towards the importance and value of recycling items correctly.

Defined recycling processes and protocols in the UK would support the opportunity for training and education for consumers, which should include education provision within UK regions, schools, councils and other educational institutes, as well as packaging design businesses.

It is recommended that while defining and aligning recycling processes and protocols, there would be a significant benefit from the study of best practice techniques within Europe including, for example, the bottle deposit schemes operating widely for many years.

What’s the alternative?

Plastic based packaging has been, and will remain, a valuable part of packaging materials used worldwide. However, there is an opportunity to consider the reduction of unnecessary plastic packaging and to look at either the elimination of plastics that cannot easily be recycled, for example black meat trays or technologies that can facilitate their recycling.

Bioplastics and biodegradable/compostable plastics are being commercialised today and development of these solutions continues and should be strongly supported.

Bioplastics and biodegradable/compostable plastics may provide an alternative environmental solution but it is recommended that a defined, certificated assessment method is agreed to ensure any bioplastic solutions that are proposed are certified as to having no detrimental environmental or marine impact after degradation or decomposition.

The case for paper

There are a number of natural, cellulose based, packaging material options based on paper, paperboard and cellulose based films. These are generally derived from certified, renewable forestry resources and are naturally recyclable and biodegradable/compostable. Cellulose based materials generally lack the barrier functionality of plastic films but new developments in barrier coatings that are still recyclable and biodegradable/compostable are being introduced and are commercially available today. These developments should also be strongly supported. As such, there are opportunities for the substitution of plastic materials with cellulose based materials ranging from wraps, cups, pots, boxes, pouches, sachets, meal trays, lidding, flow wrap and many more.

The super markets can help

The major suppliers of packaged products are the supermarket chains. There is an opportunity for these to come together and develop an aligned plan for sustainable packaging. Currently supermarkets are perceived as a major contributor to packaging waste problems. A co-ordinated programme could be a benefit to the supermarkets and the Packaging Society would be ready to support this.

Make it pay

Generally, both the bioplastic and barrier coated cellulose based packaging solutions are today more expensive than existing plastic based solutions. Scale will reduce this challenge, but meanwhile cost is often a deterrent to the adoption of environmental packaging solutions.

A consideration can be made to look at how taxes could be involved for UK and overseas-produced, hard to recycle, packaging materials could be imposed to discourage their use and provide funding for research into developing a new generation of sustainable and recyclable packaging materials, perhaps also directly motivating the adoption of those new sustainable materials through some form of tax incentives for the supermarkets.           


Full report: Statement on Plastics and Recycling from IOM3/The Packaging Society



The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) is a major UK engineering institution and is the professional body for the advancement of materials, minerals and mining to governments, industry, academia, the public and the professions. The Packaging Society provides the focus for packaging activities within IOM3. The Packaging Society was created in 2005 following the merger of IOM3 and the former Institute of Packaging.

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