The “Tackling Household Plastic Waste: Best Practice for a Circular Plastics Economy” report proposes a roadmap to reducing plastic waste entirely.
“One Bin to Rule Them All” is a three-year project funded by a UK Research and Innovation Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Grant on Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging.
The project aims to improve plastic recycling by developing “one bin” to hold all plastic like items. UoM says that it is working with stakeholders from across the plastics supply chain to improve recycling infrastructure to create more usable recycled plastics that can be fed back into a circular economy.
Last week (27 March), the project team published a policy report, “Tackling Household Plastic Waste: Best Practice for a Circular Plastics Economy”, supported by the University of Manchester’s (UoM) Sustainable Futures platform. The report can be downloaded and read here.
According to the report, improving plastic waste management is a core policy issue. However, it states that current policy remains “fragmented and siloed with a lack of consistency, standardisation and rationalisation”.
The “One Bin to Rule Them All” project team say this report comes at a crucial point in UK plastic policy with the introduction of the plastic packaging tax in 2022, both extended producer responsibility (pEPR) and Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) set to roll out over the next two years, potential policy changes on consistent collections and a ban on the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries by 2027 in the works.
The report questions whether they are sufficient to deal with the scale of the challenge remains questionable.
The report aims to detail the necessary policy solutions to tackle the complexity of the current plastics recycling system and enable the UK to transition to a circular economy of plastic waste.
So, how does the project team propose this should be done?
Enabling the transition to a plastic circular economy
The report recommends three best practice learnings:
Best Practice Learning 1: We need to better understand consumer practice
The first learning the report cites is that future policy needs to start from an understanding of consumer practice and must stress the role of everyone along the supply chain in contributing to improving recycling.
Best Practice Learning 2: Standardisation and consistency will improve recycling rates
The project team says the evidence from its research shows that improving recycling rates requires standardisation and consistency across the whole of the plastic packaging supply chain. It also states this involves targeted standardisation and consistency in three overlapping priority areas – materials, infrastructure and messaging.
Best Practice Learning 3: Both the real and potential fates of materials matter
The report argues that future policy and investment decisions need to be guided by a hierarchy of fates for plastics to maximise the value and sustainability of the entire supply chain.
The report states that the hierarchy of end-of-life plastics highlights:
- The need for specific, targeted policy decisions, such as removing certain contaminations that damage recycling and provide no sustainability benefit.
- Areas where investment and large-scale collection can vastly improve the current situation, versus areas where legislation and restriction are the better tools for sustainable progress.
In the report, the project team argues that the “One Bin” system, underpinned by the hierarchy of fates for end-of-life plastics and integrated with a “micro-level” understanding of household practices, offers a roadmap to standardise and simplify plastic recycling.
Through a focus on best practices to improve understanding of consumer practice, standardisation and consistency across the supply chain and maximising value and sustainability of plastic materials via a hierarchy of fates, the project team says it has demonstrated where policy and investment can tackle the challenge of plastic waste.
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