Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some quick answers to commonly asked questions.

If you require more information or are unable to find the answer to your question please email


  1. Glossary of some of the commonly used acronyms.

    CPET – Crystalline Polyethylene Terephthalate

    EVOH – Ethylene vinyl alcohol

    HDPE – high-density Polyethylene

    NPD – new product development process

    OPRL – On-pack Recycling Label

    PE – Polyethylene

    PET - Polyethylene Terephthalate

    PP – Polypropylene

    PS – Polystyrene

    PTT – pots, tubs and trays

    PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride

    R&D – research and development

    rPET – recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate

    rPP – recycled Polypropylene

  2. How much plastic and plastic packaging is used in the UK?

    Overall UK plastic consumption is estimated to be around 3.7 million tonnes. Packaging is the main source of plastic waste arising, accounting for approximately 2.2 million tonnes (60%) with non-packaging plastic estimated to be 1.5 million tonnes (40%).

    Of the 2.2 million tonnes used for packaging, an estimated 1.5 million tonnes (68%) of this is from household sources – food, drink, groceries, body care, clothing, DIY sold by supermarkets and retailers. The other 0.7 million tonnes (32%) used in other non-consumer sources – food and drink from the hospitality sector, plastic packaging discarded by retailers back of store, and plastics packaging used by the construction, manufacturing and agricultural sector.

    Plastic recycling has increased rapidly from 425 tonnes of plastic bottles being recycled in 1994 to over 500,000 tonnes of plastic bottles, pots, tubs and trays (source: RECOUP 2017 UK Household Plastics Collection Survey).











    Tonnes Collected










  3. What happens to plastic packaging when it is collected for recycling in the UK?

    Plastic packaging will first need to be sorted from other materials at a Material Recovery Facility (MRF). Once sorted, it can also then be sent to a Plastic Recovery Facility (PRF) for further sorting into specific plastic types.

    Materials are collected for recycling and taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF)
    Materials are then sorted based on material (Plastic, paper, card, glass or metal) and then into plastic types.
    Recyclable plastics are then sent to specialist recycling facilities to be reprocessed and made into new products.

    If it is not recycled, general waste is either used to produce Energy from Waste or it goes to landfill. 
  4. Why are PET pots, tubs and trays not recycled like PET bottles?

    Plastic pots, tub and trays are made from different types of plastic, these are PET and PP polymers. When PP is collected it is easy to sell to be recycled again. Unfortunately PET pots and trays, unlike PET bottles, doesn’t work as well when it’s recycled.

    Local authorities and waste management providers already collect all bottles and all pots, tubs and trays. This is because they want to try to develop a market so that they can be recycled. The Government recently ran a ‘Consistency Consultation’ and there was lots of support for all these plastic types to be collected as part of the household rubbish collection.

    This isn’t new or unusual. We have been collecting plastic bottles for about 30 years and we now have a really good bottle recycling process. It will take time to improve the system for other materials being recycled. It’s important that we need to collect the material so that we can develop the end markets, places to sell to. Lots of people are already working on building new factories and technology  which will be able to recycle all plastics, but we need the plastic stored up ready so that the factories can work as soon as they are built and ready to run. The reprocessing technology and end market solutions for pots, tubs and trays is already developing. If people start recycling this plastic now, and with the right investment, it is possible that the UK could be recycling PET pots, tubs and trays within 3-5 years.
  5. What happens once the plastics has been sorted for recycling?

    When materials arrive at the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) or Plastics Recovery Facility (PRF), plastics are sorted by polymer type using optical sorters. It is then shredded and washed before being melted and turn back into pellets ready to be made into new products.
    - Plastic is sorted by type using infra-red technology
    - Machines then squash the plastic to make solid blocks called bales
    - The bales are then crushed, cut into flakes and washed
    - The flakes are dried and prepared for delivery
    - They are now ready to be sent to factories to be made into new products

  6. What can plastic packaging be recycled in to?

    Plastic packaging can be recycled into a wide variety of products including: clothing, t-shirts; toys, chairs and tables; headphones; kitchen utensils; paint pots; car parts; cuddly toys; filling for duvets and sleeping bags; pens and pencils; building materials such as fencing, flooring, piping, etc; garden furniture; buckets and - of course - more plastic packaging!

  7. How can plastics recycling be improved in the UK?

    Much more needs to be done from kerbside collections and communications to residents

    This includes increasing the number of councils accepting pots, tubs and trays for recycling (currently 76% accept them, compared to 99% that accept plastic bottles)

    Improved infrastructure and communications for recycling ‘On the go’ in public areas is also needed, as this is where many materials escape the recycling stream

    Consistent material collection schemes would significantly improve recycling rates, enabling clear national communication and removing the need for a ‘check local recycling’ message

    Recycled Content
    The price of recycled plastic to manufacturers needs to be competitive against virgin plastics and the quality of material supplied needs to be right and consistent.

    Recycled content should be incentivised in products to ensure manufacturing has an ongoing demand for recycled plastics and drive plastics recycling in the UK

    After announcements about the increase of using post-consumer plastic packaging is there enough recycling capacity in the UK to produce enough material?

    No, with 79% of Local Authorities now collecting pots, tubs and trays and 175,000 tonnes estimated being collected in 2017, there needs to be more sorting facilities for non-bottle plastic packaging.
  8. What can I do to increase plastic recycling and reduce litter?

    All consumers can recycle plastic packaging by presenting it in the right way. Consumers should follow the following guidelines:

    Plastic Bottles
    Empty it.
    Check with local council, the way bottles are collected varies so it's important to confirm if they can accept the tops and labels. 
    Put it out for collection in your recycling bin

    Empty it, remove any left over food and rinse it out. 
    Check with your local council to see if they need labels, peelable films and extra packaging removed
    Put it out for collection in your recycling bin

    Top Tips!
    - Always make sure your plastic bottle or tub, pot or tray is empty and rinsed before recycling it
    - Always check your local council recycling guidelines – if your council does not accept certain items, please do not put them in your recycling bin, and put them in the general waste bin
    - Remove pump lids as these cannot be recycled – pump lids usually contain metal components and are found on hand soap and body lotion bottles
    - Trigger sprays can be left on plastic bottles – trigger sprays are usually made up of simple plastic squeeze pump handle that can be mounted onto different designed plastic bottles, these are typically found on household cleaning products

    No Thanks - Put in your General Rubbish
    The following are not currently accepted for recycling in most areas:
    - Crisp & sweet packets and laminated pouches (anything that springs back when you scrunch it)
    - Film lids from pots or trays
    - Medicine packs, e.g... headache pills, etc
    - Carrier bags/plastic wrapping film e.g... bread bags and bubble wrap - however, there are currently 75 councils who are able to collect film as part of their kerbside collection. Please check with your local council.
    - Most supermarket chains offer onsite recycling bins for carrier bags to be returned, check with your local stores.
    - Expanded polystyrene
    - Plastic bottles containing hazardous chemicals, e.g... anti-freeze
    - Toothpaste tubes

    Items are Sometimes Collected - Check Locally
    - Black plastics – Most Local Authorities collect black plastic, and the industry is working on this to either change the colour of the packaging or to increase collections and recycling
    - Plastic Toys – these could be collected from kerbside collections or could be taken to local Household Waste Recycling Centres.

  9. Why don't all councils collect the same types of plastic?

    Local authorities use different facilities and waste management providers to collect recycling materials from households and recycling points. Some of these can only accept specific plastic types and therefore residents are given different messages about what they can and cannot recycle in different areas. Local authorities also have contracts with waste management providers and changing or terminating these can be a long and costly process. However, the plastic industry would like to see all councils collecting the same types of plastic and will continue to promote this as best practice.   

  10. What are the benefits of plastics packaging?

    The UK wastes 1.9 million tonnes of food and drink a year. Almost 50% of this waste comes from our homes and without plastic packaging, food waste would be considerably higher. The environmental impact of food waste is significantly greater than the plastic protecting it. Plastic packaging both protects food during the transport process and protects food from deterioration, extending its shelf life.

    Benefits of plastic packaging include:

    Lightweight – takes up less space than alternatives, reducing emissions during transportation
    Safe – containers do not break if dropped or knocked over
    Hygienic – keeps products free from contamination
    Secure – plastic can be sealed shut or moulded into a safety mechanism
    Durable – this allows plastic to be used in a very thin form, using less resource

    Examples of extending the shelf life of some common food products are: 
    - Bananas in a flexible bag extend their shelf life by 3 days
    - Plastic bags reduce waste of potatoes by two thirds
    - Cucumbers extend their life when wrapped in film by 14 days
    - Advanced plastic packaging extends the life of steak up to 10 days

    A full scale trial by the Co-op measured the waste of wrapped and unwrapped cucumbers and it was found that by wrapping the cucumbers, food waste was reduced by two thirds.

    Because it is lightweight, plastic packaging can save energy in the transport of packed goods. Less fuel is used, there are lower emissions and there are cost savings for distributors, retailers and consumers. 

    A yogurt pot made from glass weights about 85 grams, while one made from plastic weighs 5.5 grams. In a lorry filled with a product packed in glass jars, 36% of the load would be accounted for by the packaging.  If packed in plastic pots, the packaging would amount to just 3%. To transport the same amount of yogurt, three trucks are needed for glass jars but only two for plastic pots.

  11. What are the different types of design of plastic packaging?

    The environmental impacts of products through their whole lifecycle should be central and built into the design process. Packaging should be designed to satisfy technical, consumer and customer needs in a way that minimises environmental impact. This means that, amongst other things, packaging should be designed to use the minimum amount of resources for purpose and once it has completed its job, the scope for recovery maximised.

    Careful selection of materials at the design stage will help overcome potential legislative issues, reduce cost and help conserve resources by avoiding obstacles to recovery, improving yields, producing less waste and ensuring a higher value of the recovered material.

    Some examples are:

    Mono (Single) Plastic. The preferred choice from a recycler’s point of view are, wherever possible, to use mono (single) plastic as opposed to multi-layer or coloured plastics. Due to the difficulty of sorting different plastics, the use of multi-layered plastics can mean that certain packaging will not be detected and recovered for recycling in a Material Recovery Facilities correctly and can therefore contaminate other materials. However, a lifecycle approach is needed when designing products to ensure the most resource efficient products are produced taking into account the other benefits that the packaging offers.

    Colour. Colour can also interfere with the recycling process. Using a carbon black pigment to either darken a colour or produce a fully black plastic product can cause the NIR (near infra-red) optical sorter to be absorbed - and therefore not detected and recovered for recycling. It is therefore recommended that producers use little or no colouring when manufacturing plastic packaging.

    Sleeves on Plastic Bottles. Using a full sleeve on bottles can also cause the same problem with plastic being detected and recovered for recycling. This is when the sleeve is made from a different plastic type to the bottles and covers the whole bottle. This causes the NIR (near infra-red) to detect the sleeve plastic rather than the bottle’s plastic.  

    RECOUP has developed an essential guide for those involved in the development and design of plastic packaging. This can be downloaded for free from: Plastic Packaging - Recyclability by Design.

    BPA Bisphenol A is a chemical that has been used since the 1960’s to make certain plastics. It is mainly found in Polycarbonate plastics such as water and beverage bottles and food containers.

    There has been lots of speculation over the years about BPA and the possible health effects, however extensive research concluded in 2016 from the European Foods Standards Agency (EFSA) that current exposure levels to plastics containing BPA pose no health risk to the consumer of any age.

  12. How much plastic is exported from the UK?

    The National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD) reported that 684,695 tonnes (67%) of the total of 1,015,226 tonnes of plastic packaging recycled in 2016 was exported. An estimated 264,729 tonnes (39%) of this was exported to China.

  13. What are the effects on the UK of the Chinese import restrictions on plastic waste?

    Towards the end of 2017, the Chinese Government announced that it would ban the import of all plastics, apart from those from post-manufacturing sources, from 1 January 2018. Since then, the market for plastic packaging has fundamentally changed. Once China shut its doors to imports, the market sought other destinations for material, and for a time with great success. Countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Poland saw a sudden rush of material exported there, with the UK in particular a prime exporter. But these countries couldn’t cope with all of the extra material. Infrastructure at Asian ports often wasn’t good enough to deal with this sudden influx, particularly when containers were abandoned. Often, the existing recycling infrastructure wasn’t able to cope either.


    What are the Solutions?
    Consistency in kerbside collections is required across local authorities to improve the quality and consistency of the material that is collected, and consumers should continue to follow the guidance provided by their local authorities, which have been working with their contractors on alternative solutions and markets since the restrictions were announced.

    Those waste management providers who are still able to move material have found that quality is key, with the market price for high quality packaging grades remaining stable and at medium to high levels.

    In the long term, the restrictions in China are an opportunity to invest in the UK’s recycling infrastructure and prevent the current reliance on export. This will need to be achieved with greater financial support from the UK government and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

    More recently further restrictions on the import of plastic waste or recycling have been put in place in these countries below, with reports of household and other low-quality plastic waste from the developed world being returned or stuck at ports.

  14. How much plastic enters the oceans? And where does it come from?

    No one really knows how much plastic enters the oceans. There are have been a number of estimates, including Jambeck et al, 2015, who calculated it at 4.8-12.7 million MT based on the plastic waste generated in 192 costal countries.

    Waste generally enters the environment in the UK as a result of inappropriately disposed of waste, such as littering or wrongly flushing items down the toilet.

    Not all countries in the world have an adequate waste management infrastructure. This leaves people unable to properly dispose of their waste and having to rely on waste sites. These waste sites are often located near oceans or waterway, which leaves the material vulnerable to finding its way into the ocean. The UN estimates that ‘at least 2 billion people worldwide still lack access to solid waste collection’. [Source: UNEP, Global Waste Management Outlook, 2015]

    There have been estimates of the contribution of different sources of material to the ocean, but these are often based on assumptions or limited data sources.

    80% of the plastic found in the ocean is estimated to have come from land-based sources.​ The remaining 20% is thought to be the result of water-related activities. [Source: European Commission. Our Oceans, Seas and Coasts]

    World map showing where plastic in ocean comes from

    Source: Jambeck et al. 'Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean'. Marine Pollution

    Recent research found that 88–95% of plastic in the ocean comes from just 10 rivers – none are in the UK or Europe. [Source: Schmidt, Krauth, Wagner 'Export of Plastic Debris by Rivers into the Sea', Environ. Sci. Technol. 2017.]

  15. How much plastic enters the oceans from the UK? And where does it come from?

    A recent source for litter in the UK is from the Marine Conservation Societies Great British Beach Clean. Their 2017 clean ups they found the beach litter comes from:

    ‘Non-sourced’ i.e.. it is hard to know as the pieces are too small - 46.2%
    Public – 30.4%
    Fishing - 10.8%
    Sewage related debris - 8.5%
    Shipping (2.9%)
    Fly tipping (1%)
    Medical – 0.2%

    Data from Keep Britain Tidy’s Litter Composition Survey of England found that plastic bottles contributed to only 2.1% of litter and plastic bags 0.7%. The most frequently littered items were cigarettes and chewing gum.

    A report, Composition of Litter in Scotland, by Keep Scotland Beautiful & INCPEN stated plastic bottles make up 1.5% of the composition and soft drink bottle tops 0.4% – a combined figure of less than 2%. The 2017 MCS Great British Beach Clean also lists the top 10 items that were found in the beach clean on UK beaches (although note plastic bottles were not in the 2017 list but are 10th in 2016).

    Current research estimates that the 2% of the plastic entering the ocean from the land comes from US and Europe. There is no specific UK data available. However, a recent study by BKV estimated that the amount of plastics going into the North Sea from Germany is 1,092 tonnes which represents 0.013% (assuming the global figure is 8 million tonnes). This report shows a split of the different areas where plastics might be leaked.

    Even if the UK contributed to marine litter 10 times more than Germany, which assumed is not to be the case, the approximated figure for the UK contributing to plastics entering the oceans would be 0.1%.

  16. What are microplastics?

    Microplastics are another source of plastic in the ocean. These are small pieces of plastic 5mm or less in size.  They can be both primary or secondary. Secondary are larger pieces of plastic that break down when exposed to the sun, water and the action of waves. Primary microplastics are thought to account for 10% of plastic in the ocean. Sources of primary microplastics are:

    Microfibres. These are released from clothing.  These are thought to account for 35% of primary microplastics. A variety of solutions are being investigated to collect these fibres or improve filtration.

    Tyres & City Dust. Tyres are thought to account for 28% of primary microplastics and city dust accounts for 24%.

    Microbeads. These are sometimes used in cosmetics. They will now be banned in 2018 in the UK. One study suggests these account for 2% of primary microplastics [Source: IUCN Primary Microplastics in the Oceans – a Global Evaluation of Sources].

    Plastic Pellets. These are used in the manufacturing of plastic (sometimes called ‘nurdles’) and are thought to account for less than 1% of overall plastic in the ocean. Operation Clean Sweep® is run by the plastics industry to prevent leakage of plastic pellets, flakes and powders into the environment from manufacturing and distribution facilities.

  17. What is a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS)?

    There has been a growing interest in the use of a deposit return system to increase the collection quantity and quality of beverage plastic bottles, and reduce littering of these items. This opportunity is also referenced within the EU plastics strategy, and is currently being consulted on by UK government alongside other areas of focus as part of the new Resources and Waste Strategy for England. A Scottish DRS consultation closes in September 2018.Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) are often cited as a solution to help reduce litter and drive up recycling rates.

    Some countries have achieved higher rates of plastic bottle recycling with DRS of over 90% (Germany, Norway, Sweden). Other regions have lower rates than the UK, currently at 74% for plastic PET/HDPE drink bottles (source: Valpak), even though they have a DRS in place (Hawaii – 61% and Oregon – 52%). There is also concern over the impact it may cause to other plastic packaging collected through the kerbside as the economics of these collections may be affected. In Germany there was a significant drop in overall packaging recycling rates after the DRS is introduced in 2003 and these had not recovered by 2014 to pre-DRS levels [Source: Ardargh Group Analysis of European Commission data].

    A DRS system would undoubtedly provide a clean, high value stream of plastic drinks containers which is likely to include PET and metal cans. Other materials and plastic formats such as glass and HDPE bottles are also be in scope. It could complement existing collection schemes (kerbside, bring, HWRC and ‘On-the-Go’), but there are many questions that need to be researched and developed.

    Defra are currently working on various options on how the system operation and structure of the scheme and financial and fiscal measures used will work. Additional consideration needs to be given to equipment, space, leasing of Reverse Vending Machine (RVM) units, use of ‘manual’ collection points, and transport.

    There is evidence both for and against the potential benefits of DRS to Local Authorities in relation to both the practical and economic implications for litter management and revenues from recycling collections. In a DRS scheme consumers would place plastic drinks bottles for recycling outside of kerbside collections schemes, and therefore there is a potential for significant quantities of these highly recyclable bottles to be removed from kerbside schemes.

    Some reports state the loss of revenue for Local Authorities and waste management providers from this stream would be offset against reduced litter and street cleaning costs. In addition, there would be savings in collection costs because of the reduced quantities being collected through kerbside services. Others state street cleaning and collection costs would not be affected and compensation should be given Local Authorities to reimburse them for this loos of revenue.

    Learnings from other countries using a DRS scheme can be considered, but with different waste management and recycling structures and financial and Green Dot systems in place exact replication of other systems is unlikely to work in the UK, and the use of other systems in data modelling to estimate collection levels and costs need to be carefully considered.

    There is currently no available evidence that shows a DRS has had a positive impact on litter. In the UK beverage containers are a small percentage of litter, plastic bottles only account for 2.1% of litter [Source: Litter Composition Survey of England carried out by Keep Britain Tidy (KBT)]. For DRS to have an impact on litter it would need to cover a wider range of products than just drinks containers. Data from Germany found that the DRS had ‘no significant quantitative effects in litter reduction and no economic effect in street cleaning identifiable as a result’ of implementing a DRS [Source: Prognos Executive Summary]. 


  18. How much plastic does get recycled?

    According to the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD), 1,015,226 tonnes of the estimated 2,260,000 tonnes of plastics packaging placed on the market (POM) was recycled in 2016, giving an overall recycling rate for plastic packaging in the UK of just under 45%. This represented just under 14% increase from the 891,141 tonnes of plastics packaging recycled in 2015. The UK recovery rate for plastic packaging is 78% [PlasticsEurope – Plastics: The Facts 2017].

    The UK is 7th out of 30 European countries in recycling of plastic packaging. [Source PlasticsEurope. Plastics the Facts 2017]

    The remaining 1,244,774 tonnes that is not recycled either goes to landfill and energy recovery (including refuse-derive fuel) end destinations, but there is limited data on the breakdown of the non-recycled fraction.

    In addition, according to the NPWD 63% of the 1,015,226 tonnes of plastic packaging recycled in 2016 was exported – 684,000 tonnes to export and 331,000 tonnes to domestic markets.

    The 512,475 tonnes of rigid plastic packaging collected for recycling from UK households in 2016 makes up just over 50% of this total, with the remaining material mainly coming from commercial and industrial (C&I) sources.

    As well as plastic packaging, rigid plastics such as parts from cars, electrical items and windows can all be recycled.  The overall plastic recycling rate in the UK is 32%, with a recovery rate of 70%  [source: PlasticsEurope, Plastics the facts 2017). In Europe, the overall plastic recycling rate is 31%, with 73% of the material being recovered through recycling or energy recovery (source: PlasticsEurope, Plastics the facts 2017). In 2016, 41% of plastic packaging was collected for recycling in Europe [Source: Plastics the facts 2017).

    In Europe for plastic overall 32% was recycled and there was a 70% recovery rate. 30% of plastics goes to landfill. [Source: PlasticsEurope Plastics the facts 2017]

    The overall plastic bottle (including bathroom and cleaning items) collection rate is 58%; pots, tubs and trays is 32% and overall rigids is 46% (source: RECOUP, UK Household Plastics Collection Survey 2017). 74% of plastic (PET/HDPE) drink bottles were recycled in the UK in 2016 (Source: Valpak analysis of Valpak data, Flow Reports, National Packaging Waste Database & RECOUP).

    In 2016, 120,000 tonnes of PVC was collected and recycled in the UK (source: Recovinyl).

    There are currently no robust figures available for plastic which goes into litter bins or recycle-on-the go bins. RECOUP and Valpak have been working together on a project from Defra to estimate what is collected from recycling ‘On-the-Go’ and results will be published in due course.

  19. Why don't we recycle all plastic in the UK?

    If all available technology was used, all plastic can be recycled. However, there are technical, economic, environmental and logistical factors which prevent everything being reprocessed into new products.

    Individual councils have different contracts in place and access to different facilities that influences what they are able to accept.  The numbers are generally improving though and the number of councils collecting pots, tubs and trays has increased from 30% to 75% from 2010-2015. Once collections are in place, the next challenge is to ensure everyone puts their recycling in the recycling bins.

    The framework for greater consistency in household recycling in England is aiming that ‘every household in England can recycle a common set of dry recyclable materials and food waste, collected in one of three different ways’. The British Plastics Federation and RECOUP are involved in a number of these projects. There is also work taking place to improve packaging design to make products easier to recycle.

    As mentioned, there are economic and sustainable factors affecting whether something is recycled. Mechanical recycling is an excellent way to turn old products into new products but if an item is very contaminated for example by food it may not be economically or even environmentally beneficial to recycle that product.

  20. Should I stop using plastic packaging?

    Plastic packaging provides many benefits to products and compared to alternative materials it uses less energy to produce, reduces transport costs and CO2 emissions because it is lightweight, and significantly reduces the amount of fresh food waste by protecting it in a hygienic environment and extending its shelf life.

    It is important at end of use that plastic packaging is disposed of correctly. It should be reused or recycled whenever possible.

  21. How can coloured PET be used? 

    Currently the only market we are aware of for coloured PET is strapping. However we are currently trialling green PET with horticultural pot manufacturers in Holland. (May 2019).

  22. What can the public do to reduce plastics in the natural environment and the oceans?

    Use the bin - not the gutter, not the river, not the pavement

    If you see some litter and you’re near a bin – pick it up
    If the bin is full, find another one or take your litter home
    You can also join a local beach or neighbourhood clean-up
    Make sure you recycle everything you can

    You can also increase recycling by buying products made from recycled plastic.

  23. Where can I find out further information?

    For further information please refer to and

    The Plastics Industry Recycling Action Plan (PIRAP) is working with the whole value chain to increase plastic recycling. More information can be found at

Tel: 01733 390021

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