The UK Plastics Pact has published “landmark” guidance to tackle consumer confusion on recycling, which experts claim will lead to a “paradigm shift” in food packaging.
The guidance sets out which plastics used in household packaging are currently classed as ‘recyclable’, in a move it hopes will also provide direction to packaging designers.
Published by Wrap, which is spearheading the Pact, the guidance identifies what types of plastic packaging are actually recycled, at scale and in practice.
In a further significant move, the On-Pack Labelling Scheme (OPRL) is expected to adopt the guidance when it launches new labelling for what is ‘recyclable’ later this year.
Among plastics highlighted in the document is clear PET (often used for drinks bottles and trays), with Wrap saying the market for the material makes it much more likely to be recycled than other types of plastic.
It says only coloured plastics that can be sorted in the recycling process using near-infra red (NIR) technology should be deemed recyclable.
While the scope of the guidance is currently rigid plastic packaging - bottles, pots, tubs and trays - it will be updated in the future to include films and flexibles.
Wrap said it would be publishing further guidance in the coming months on NIR-detectable black plastics.
The move comes weeks after Wrap published a list of eight “problematic or unnecessary” single-use plastics that the Pact’s members will be expected to remove from shelves by the end of 2020. It also published a further list of 19 plastic items that are to be prioritised.
“If plastic is recyclable, and clearly labelled as such, we stand a far greater chance of keeping that plastic in the economy and out of the natural environment,” said Peter Maddox, director of Wrap UK.
“We also know from recent research that citizens want to see packaging that is 100% recyclable, which they can recycle at home. By rationalising the number of polymers used in packaging, we can develop a more efficient recycling system, and reduce confusion for citizens.
“The public find plastics confusing and, with widespread concerns over irresponsible disposal and environmental pollution by plastic packaging, are increasingly condemning all plastic packaging as intolerable,” said OPRL chair Jane Bevis.
“But plastic packaging has a key role in protecting our environment too - well-chosen polymers used in well-designed packaging are vital to reducing food waste and the resulting methane and other greenhouse gas emissions. So this hugely welcome guidance from the Plastics Pact is crucial in promoting a paradigm shift in packaging design, both food and non-food.”