As of July 2021, ReWrapped has examined the comparability of Irish and EU packaging waste statistics reporting, reviewed the situation with regard to the collection of data on very lightweight plastic bags, and undertaken interviews and a survey of producers, retailers and waste processors. A survey of consumers is now underway.
Plastic waste statistics
In January 2020, ReWrapped produced a Deliverable on the reporting of packaging waste. A journal paper is forthcoming.
- EU Member States use a variety of different methods to collect data on packaging waste, but the most common is an estimation of the types and quantities of packaging that are ‘Placed on the Market’ (POM) based on data provided by companies or producer responsibility organisations .
- Ireland, and a few other countries, rely more on Waste Analysis (WA), an analysis of what is collected as waste.
- Most countries complement these methods with trade statistics, surveys, etc.
- Ireland would appear to be performing relatively poorly with a high per capita production of plastic waste of 57kg pa.
- However, while in principle, POM and WA should provide the same figures:-
- POM requires comprehensive and honest reporting, including estimates of cross-border purchases and on-line sales.
- WA needs requires estimates for moisture and contamination (e.g. food residue), as well as regular and thorough sampling.
- Hitherto, common methods and standards have not been applied across the EU.
- Levels of de-minimis, the minimum turnover or waste output at which companies must report waste volumes, also varies between MS.
- Improvements to reporting are anticipated, and are essential if a Circular Economy is to be achieved equally and fairly across MS.
A survey was undertaken of 76 food producers in the Spring of 2021. Amongst the main findings:
- Plastic is the material most used by producers. 92% of producers use plastics (of varying type), closely followed by paper/cardboard at 91%.
- Most packaging takes the form of boxes (74%), followed by bags (46%), pots/tubs/trays (45%) and plastic films (43%).
- Most companies outsource their packaging (59%) and many also outsource the design (35%), although in-house design teams are involved in 40% of cases.
- Protection of the product is the most important consideration, followed by retailer specifications, marketing, shelf-life, and product information.
- Airtight packaging is the main quality sought by 58% of companies.
- For 62% of companies their packaging is partially recyclable in Ireland, and for 25% it is fully recyclable. Few Irish companies use household or industrially compostable packaging.
- Cost, unsuitability of sustainable packaging, supply of raw materials and the limitations of existing machinery are the main internal constraints to moving towards a more circular system.
- The main external constraints are claimed to be insufficient recycling facilities, insufficient incentives, restrictive food hygiene standards and insufficient guidance.