New study finds that only a third of plastic used by households is recyclable

black plastic
Black plastic recycling

A Local Government Association (LGA) analysis has found that only a third of plastics used by households annually is recyclable. 

The study found that 525,000 tonnes of plastic pots, tubs and trays are used by households annually, but only 169,145 tonnes of this is able to be recycled.  


From this, the LGA is calling for manufacturers to work with councils to develop a plan to stop unrecyclable packaging from entering the environment in the first place.  

Packaging for food can be made from a variety of polymers which need to be separated out to remove “low grade” and non-recyclable polymers, such as polystyrene.  

Microwave meals are often encased in predominantly black plastic material for aesthetic reasons. However, black plastic is the only coloured material that cannot be easily scanned by recycling machines and sorted, leading to delays in the recycling process.  

In addition to creating a plan that ensures recyclable packaging is used where possible, councils are calling on the Government to consider a ban on low-grade plastics, and for producers and manufacturers to contribute to the cost of collection or disposal.  

According to LGA, 99% of councils collect plastic bottles for recycling and 77% collect pots, tubs, and trays, but the association said that the inclusion of these challenging polymers in so much packaging is making it difficult for councils.  

Alternatives to the challenging polymers in packaging include cardboard, paper or a recyclable version of pots, LGA said.  

LGA environment spokesperson Cllr Judith Blake said: “It’s time for manufacturers to stop letting a smorgasboard of unrecyclable and damaging plastic flow into our environment. Some of the measures that could help us reduce landfill and increase recycling are no- brainers; for instance, microwave meals should be stored in a container that is any other colour than black, to enable quicker recycling. 

“We’ve been calling for producers of unrecyclable material to develop a plan to stop this from entering the environment for years. That needs to happen urgently, but the Government should now consider banning low-grade plastics, particularly those for single use, in order to increase recycling. 

She added: “If manufacturers don’t want to get serious about producing material which can be recycled and protecting our environment, then they should at least contribute towards the cost that local taxpayers have to pay to clear it up. 

“We need an industry-wide, collaborative approach where together we can reduce the amount of material having an impact on the environment. But if industry won’t help us get there, then the Government should step in to help councils ensure we can preserve our environment for generations to come.” 


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