Eunomia study finds UK overestimates plastic packaging recycling rates

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A new report from Eunomia has revealed that the UK overestimates how much plastic packaging waste gets recycled. 

Statistics from 2015 on UK households and businesses found that 2.26 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste were produced, with almost 39% claiming to have been recycled. 

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However, Eunomia’s new study Plastic Packaging – Shedding Light on the UK Data, has found that the real quantity of plastic packaging waste produced is much higher, around 3.5 million tonnes.  

From this, Eunomia has said that if the amount reported as recycled is correct, it appears that “the real recycling rate may be 9-10 percentage points lower than the government claims” and the UK may have failed to meet its recycling target in the years 2008-2012. 

The report continued to state that the over-reporting could be down to the weight measured, as it is likely to be increased by the inclusion of moisture and contaminants.  

Within the UK, official data on the amount of plastic packaging placed on the market is derived from data from producer “compliance schemes” rather than being independently produced. 

Eunomia’s study highlighted that the lower the figure for the packaging placed on the market, the lower the amount of material needs to be recycled in order to meet targets, keeping down costs of compliance to industry.  

Eunomia Chairman Dominic Hogg 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. 

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

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