The use of plastics, and even the existence of this versatile material, has been increasingly demonised in the UK. Public campaigns exist to expand use of recyclable cups and to eliminate plastic straws. Retailers supplying 80% of the market are now members of the UK Plastics Pact, with goals to ensure that products are designed to be recycled, that recycling takes place, and that more recyclate is used in new products.
Public awareness has not translated into action, as domestic collection rates for discarded plastics remain pitifully low. We started with a systems-wide vision that these rates can only be increased if all household plastic recycling is made easy and consistent – christened ‘One Bin to Rule Them All’ - and used this premise as a starting point to examine the implications of a fully mixed plastics waste stream entering the supply chain. An agenda for future research was developed through 25 interviews with senior industrial and commercial management and a cross-sector workshop.
We determined that if improved household collection rates are to translate into significantly improved recycling rates, rapid progress is required in four areas: standardisation (materials, kerbside collections, waste sorting), infrastructure investment, development of cross-supply chain business models and creation of higher value recyclate. Creating a harmonised national solution to plastic waste sorting is critically dependent on maintaining value in discarded plastics. This in turn reduces plastic leakage into the environment. Enabling this value-based scenario in the UK would form a best-practice model for other regions.