The Local Government Association (LGA) has urged the Government to consider banning low-grade single-use plastic packaging, after revealing that just a third of household plastic can be recycled.
In a report, the LGA urged manufacturers to stop making packaging out of materials that were tricky to recycle, including black plastic food trays.
The LGA said: “Black is the only colour that cannot easily be scanned by recycling machines and sorted, meaning this unnecessarily hinders the recycling process.”
The report found that, of the 525,000 tonnes of plastic pots, tubs and trays (PTT) collected from households a year, only 169,145 tonnes can be recycled.
Currently, around 77% of councils collect PTT.
The LGA wants packaging producers to use alternative materials in order to boost recyclability.
It said: “Alternatives to the packaging saturated in polymers which are challenging to recycle could include cardboard, paper or a recyclable version of pots. For instance, if margarine tubs were made out of the same material as plastic water bottles, they would be recyclable.”
As well as mooting a ban on low-grade plastics, the LGA said producers and manufacturers needed to contribute more to collection and disposal costs.
“Microwave meals should be stored in a container that is any other colour than black, to enable quicker recycling.”
Judith Blake, LGA environment spokesperson, 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 to 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.
“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 to get there, then the Government should step in to help councils ensure we can preserve our environment for generations to come.”
Paul Vanston, chief executive of industry packaging body Incpen, said he had held discussions with the LGA and there had been “substantial engagement with local government colleagues”.
A further meeting between Vanston and the LGA has been scheduled for 21 August.
He said: “I’m really looking forward to discussing that with LGA colleagues. It seems officers are ready for such a discussion. I am very happy to reiterate my past offers to meet with LGA councillors and senior LGA officers including Mark Lloyd, chief executive.”
Vanson added that councils needed to introduced harmonised household collections to boost recycling rates.
“If collections consistency and unambiguous consumer labelling can happen simultaneously by around 2023, that’s a goal worth aiming for, and allows five years to get it done,” he added.
From the LGA report: five everyday packages that use unrecyclable plastic
- Margarine and ice cream tubs. This packaging contains the polymer polypropylene, which is extremely difficult to recycle. An alternative to this could be making them out of plastic used for water bottles which can be easily recycled.
- Microwave meal and meat packaging. These materials can be re-sorted and recycled easily, but need to be sorted using an optical scanner beforehand. The optical scanner can sort this material from any other colour other than black, yet manufacturers intentionally choose to use black packaging for aesthetic reasons. Changing the colour of these trays could lead to a real increase in recycling.
- Fruit and vegetable punnets. Though simple in design, these punnets are complex in construction, with three polymers used in the construction of them. Councils are calling for a simpler design using recyclable materials.
- Yoghurt pots use a mixture of two polymers, polypropylene and polystyrene, which are difficult to recycle. Some companies now use yoghurt pots made only out of polyethylene terephthalate – the same material that is used for plastic bottles, making them easily recyclable.
- Bakery goods trays. The lining which is used to house cakes and baked goods contains two difficult-to-recycle polymers, polyethelene terephthalate and polystyrene. More recyclable materials are available to store baked goods.