The UK Plastics Pact is a world-first agreement between governments, businesses, local authorities, NGOs and citizens which aims to transform the UK’s plastics system. It will help society move away from the traditional, and extremely wasteful, ‘take-make-dispose’ model and towards a circular system which allows plastic to be used and reused, helping keep it out of the natural environment. 

By 2025, the aim is to transform the UK’s plastic packaging sector by hitting a series of targets: 100% of plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable; 70% of plastic packaging will be effectively recycled or composted; single-use packaging will be eliminated through redesign, innovation and reuse; and all plastic packaging will feature an average of 30% recycled content.

A Step in the Right Direction

There is no question that the UK Plastics Pact represents a significant step in the right direction towards ensuring a more sustainable future. The agreement clearly outlines what is an extremely complicated issue in very simple terms that everyone, including consumers who may only recently have become aware of the issue, can understand. It cuts through the noise and gets straight to the heart of the problem and, crucially, acknowledges plastics for what they are – incredibly versatile and important resources that give huge benefits in food safety and reducing food waste. It is vital that, in an advanced economy such as ours, we turn the proliferation of plastics to our advantage by using the technology available to us to create a circular economy for plastics and the Pact seeks to do exactly that. 

At this stage, discussions about the Pact in the media have mostly centred around primary packaging, and there is a suggestion that consumers and supermarkets may be focussing their intentions in the wrong area by ignoring secondary or transit packaging. However, it can be argued that it’s logical for consumers to focus on primary packaging, as that is what they come into contact with, unlike secondary packaging which remains in supermarkets, and there is a lot more of it.

Changing Attitudes Towards Recycling  

The critical issue here is: how can we ensure consumers are getting their recyclable plastic primary packaging out of their rubbish bins and into their recycling? The answer to this is a threefold approach. First, we need to simplify the types of plastics which are being used. Some plastics can be recycled and some can’t and we need to take the responsibility for differentiating between these out of the consumers hands by banning non recyclable plastics altogether. Next, we need to work on changing attitudes toward recycling and this is something for which everyone is responsible. The once prevalent attitude of ‘it all ends up in the same place anyway’ is, thankfully, now dying out and it is common knowledge that recycling helps the environment, but we still need everybody to put their money where their mouth is and ensure they are putting the correct items in the correct recycling bins. 

Finally, we need to put new systems in place that guarantee that what is being placed in recycling bins is actually being recycled. Incidents of huge amounts of plastic being sent to landfill instead of being recycled must be stamped out as a matter of urgency because, as well as being extremely bad news for the environment, they also serve to undermine the efforts being made in the minds of the general public.

In order for the Pact to be fully effective, the conversations around it will eventually need to address secondary packaging.  Secondary packaging, which includes retail-ready and transit packaging, can be easily overlooked as it doesn’t end up in the hands of the general public but the waste created by it is every bit as important as the waste from primary packaging.


In order for the Pact to be successful in the short term, it needs to ensure its message is reaching consumers as well as large organisations. It will only succeed if all members of society embrace it and they will only embrace if there is a compelling reason for them to do so, so we need to move the conversation away from ‘let’s ban all plastics’ and towards “what are the good plastics and what are the bad ones” and ‘how can consumers guarantee the recyclable plastics we all use everyday are being recycled’?

In the longer term, legislation may also be required in order to ensure that targets are being met by governments, businesses and local authorities. But, by embracing a more constructive solution like the Pact, we can turn a negative situation into a positive one and create a more sustainable future for everyone with a circular economy for plastics at its heart.