Product packaging less recyclable in the UK than other countries, Which? reveals

The packaging of popular branded products is less recyclable in the UK compared with other countries, Which? has found, as research from international consumer groups reveals consumers around the world face barriers to recycling. 

Which?, along with eight international consumer groups representing 1.8 billion people, analysed the packaging of 11 global household products, such as Coca-Cola, Nutella hazelnut spread and Whiskas cat food, to reveal if the packaging was recyclable in practice – which means there is an existing collection, sorting and recycling system to allow consumers to actually recycle the packaging. The consumer groups also examined the quality of labelling information on packaging. 

The snapshot investigation revealed across all nine countries, which also included Australia, Brazil France and Hong Kong, consumers were unable to recycle all the product packaging in practice. On average, a third (35%) of the packaging weight across all countries could not be recycled easily. 

The recyclability of the 11 products analysed varied across all nine countries, with the UK finishing fifth in rankings. 

On average, a third (32%) of the packaging weight Which? analysed could not be easily recycled in practice. Five out of 11 products analysed could not be fully recycled in practice, including Heinz Tomato Ketchup, Kit Kat, Peanut M&Ms, Pringles and Whiskas cat food. 

The UK lagged behind Hong Kong (7%) and Portugal (10%), which were the best countries for recycling. Australia (14%) and India (23%) also did better than the UK as they had a lower proportion of product packaging weight that could not be recycled.  

Different recycling infrastructure and product manufacturing would have a significant impact on the recyclability of product packaging in each country – however more can be done to improve the recyclability of grocery packaging in the UK. 

The worst countries for recycling in the snapshot investigation were Brazil, where an average of 92 per cent of the packaging weight could not be easily recycled in practice, and New Zealand, where the figure was 57 per cent. 

The investigation also found no product had clear recycling labelling across all nine countries, and in some cases, it was misleading, unclear and confusing. 

While most of the products Which? analysed were clearly labelled with recycling information, a third (four) did not have any recycling information on the packaging. 

The least recyclable products across all nine countries were Pringles (84%), M&M’s peanut chocolate (67%) and Kit Kat (64%), which had the highest average percentage of packaging weight that could not be recycled. 

The most recyclable products were Coca-Cola’s can pack (2%), Nescafé Original Jar (12%) and Nutella Hazelnut Spread with Cocoa (16%), which had the lowest average percentage of packaging weight that could not be easily recycled. 

Michael Briggs, Head of Sustainability at Which?, said: 

“We know UK consumers want packaging that is easy to recycle, and while many types of packaging can be recycled in household collections, the UK is lagging behind some other countries when it comes to packaging recyclability. 

“Manufacturers must do more to ensure their packaging can be easily recycled, but as a first step the government should make recycling labels on grocery packaging mandatory, simple and clear – enabling shoppers to know exactly how to dispose of packaging on the products they use.”

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