UK may be overestimating plastic packaging recycling figures by 10% each year

A report from environmental consultancy Eunomia has revealed that the UK may be overestimating how much plastic packaging waste is recycled by as much as 10% each year, meaning the UK may have failed to meet previous recycling targets set by the EU.

The report has identified that when plastic material enters the market it is clean, dry and free from extra materials such as labels. However, once it has been used and recycled, its weight has increased to due moisture and other external factors. This could account for an extra 3.5m tonnes of extra plastic packaging waste being produced each year.

The report questions the effectiveness of the current UK system of recycling, and points much of the blame at the door of the packaging companies themselves who take part in government approved compliance schemes.

In the UK packaging producer responsibility scheme, businesses who produce plastic above a specified minimum threshold each have an obligation to ensure that a specified proportion of the packaging that they handle is recycled. They do this by joining one of a number of compliance firms such as Valpak.

The compliance scheme effectively takes on the legal responsibility of a business to demonstrate that the necessary quantity of packaging has been recycled to meet a target.

The lower the figure for the packaging placed on the market, the lower the fees that producers have to pay into the compliance schemes. A lower figure also reduces the amount of material that needs to be recycled in order to meet the targets, keeping down the costs of compliance to industry.

Dominic Hogg, chairman of Eunomia, said: ‘It’s not really surprising to find that the UK’s recycling rate for plastics is not as good as is claimed. The scheme supports the reporting of compliance at low cost, rather than achieving high-quality recycling of plastic packaging. The disparities between datasets indicate that the existing scheme gives a weak foundation on which to base the recycling figures.’

With the issue of plastic packaging waste firmly on the agenda, the report is alarming news for those who believed the UK was meeting its recycling targets set by the EU in the years 2008-2012.

‘The existing system of producer responsibility is failing. It has allowed problems with plastic packaging to grow, and in its most basic responsibility – demonstrating compliance with a target – the data cannot be trusted,’ said Mr Hogg.

Environment Journal has reached out to Valpak for comment.

Eunomia’s Report Plastic Packaging: Shedding Light on the UK Data is available to read at

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