The recent 25 Year Environment Plan set out the government’s intention to achieve zero avoidable plastic waste by 2042 and a series of measures to improve quality of material collected and recycled. It also promoted measures to support more effective anti-littering campaigns. The EU also published its Plastics Strategy with an intention to achieve a recycling rate for plastics of 55% by 2030 and a series of measures to encourage best practice in reuse and recycling, together with measures aimed at improving waste infrastructure to prevent the leakage of materials into the oceans. The following information aims to provide guidance on how these objectives could potentially be achieved and also why the packaging of goods is beneficial.
To stop plastic leaking into oceans we must understand where it comes from and which items are the largest contributors.
Where does plastic in the ocean come from? Most comes from land, mainly from countries outside the US and Europe where many people do not have kerbside collection and instead rely on open dumpsites near waterways. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues to address here in the UK.
What does the UK contribute to plastic in the ocean? Litter from items consumed outside the home – this can fall into drains or waterway or be littered on beaches. Abandoned fishing gear and items thoughtlessly flushed down the toilet (e.g. cotton buds).
Items found on beaches
Technical Report by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service. Marine Beach Litter in Europe. 2016
Nets + ropes
Plastic caps and lids
Crisp and sweet wrappers
String and cord < 1 cm diameter
Cotton bud sticks
Plastic drink bottles
Plastic food containers
Items found underwater
Project Aware – Dive Against Debris. Annual Review 2016.
Fishing sinkers, lures, hooks
Plastic food wrappers
Beverage cans (aluminium)
Beverage bottles (glass)
Glass & ceramic fragments
Plastic bags (grocery/retail)
Plastic spoons, plates, forks, knives
What is the plastics industry doing to help stop plastic entering our oceans? Education programmes, phasing out microbeads, preventing raw material loss, innovative campaigns on littering and sharing of best practice.
Why use packaging?
To save resources, such as food and product waste that occurs on the way to the store and while on display. Packaging typically reduces supermarket food and product waste by about one third.
Packaging lets us consume products in ways that would be very diﬃcult, if not impossible without it.
Protects vulnerable products from damage whilst in transit and from contamination or damage by moisture, humidity, gases, microorganisms, insects and light.
Preserves products for longer, which reduces waste by giving people more time to use or consume them before it is no longer suitable to do so.
Prevents waste by keeping a product together and avoiding spillages.
Allows transport over great distances, so that we have access to a wide variety of non-local produce that, in turn, encourages trade.
Saves space through stacking objects which make transporting more eﬃcient.
Displays important information about the product, such as nutritional content or allergy advice, which makes selling easier.
Why plastic? It’s light and can provide unique benefits (e.g. packaging fresh produce). You can use less plastic than other materials to do the same job. Producing plastic uses half as much energy and results in much less carbon being emitted than alternatives.
Why isn’t it all plastic biodegradable? Products that are easily recyclable should be recycled to enable the reuse of the material. Some items such as small items and those heavily contaminated with food may be suitable for composting. However, we need to make sure they don’t get into the recycling stream (where they can cause issues) and are collected for special treatment (industrial composting). Most materials only biodegrade in special conditions (which are not met on the street, in the ocean or in landfill) so they should never be littered.
Isn’t plastic difficult to recycle? No – 74% of plastic beverage bottles are recycled. The UK recovers 80% of all plastic packaging. The UK is also the 7th best recycler of plastic packaging waste in Europe (out of 30 countries).
What about black and coloured plastic? Currently, waste management companies have difficulties separating black trays, but once separated they can be recycled. New smart detection systems can solve this problem. Some black trays already contain 98% recycled content.
Can films be recycled? Yes and 17 member states in Europe already collect all plastics packaging from households. The UK should follow their lead.
What do we think is the way forward for plastic packaging?
In the UK, we believe we should expand kerbside collection, improve collection outside of the home, provide clear communications on recycling and implement strong anti-litter campaigns.
We should strive to ensure the design and materials / material structures specified at the initial design stage of the packaging facilitate recycling if deemed to be the most appropriate course of action at end of life stage.
If we merely stop using plastics altogether we are likely to consume more overall resources and have no less litter. Instead, we should continue to strive to find the most effective materials (which may not always be plastics) and environmentally friendly design structures with the best overall environmental outcomes to package our goods.
At Ultimate we are committed to developing new innovative packaging, focusing on sustainability, extending shelf life and reducing waste. It is very important to us to protect the environment and consistently improve our performance. We work with a diverse selection of innovative specialist raw material suppliers from all over the world. Additionally we have a dedicated team of technical specialists in polymers and packaging technology backed up with state of the art laboratory equipment and facilities to ensure to get the right solution for both our customers and specifiers.
Ultimate Packaging are committed to playing our part in addressing the major challenge of plastics in the environment and protecting our planet for the future. We commit to work closely with our customers, specifiers and suppliers to meet the targets set out in the 25 year Environment plan and to develop all our packaging to be recyclable or reusable within the next 5 years.