In need of a fresh wave of motivation with your recycling efforts? WRAP UK Director Peter Maddox is here to reveal why – and how – your actions can make a huge difference…

WRAP is on a mission to build a world in which resources are used sustainably – which is definitely easier said than done. But through practical solutions and engaging campaigns, WRAP – together with the everyday people, governments and businesses (including The Coca-Cola Company) it works with – is slowly but surely delivering on that vision.

We recently sat down with WRAP UK Director, Peter Maddox, to ask about the challenges we’re currently facing, the advice he has for people wanting to make a difference, and an outlook for 2019 and beyond.

What are the most common myths around recycling and sustainability?

Many people I know are surprised when I tell them that many forms of black plastic can’t currently be recycled. There’s a pigment called carbon black that’s often used to make black plastic packaging, but it cannot be detected by the sorting equipment – meaning the machine doesn’t know it is to be recycled. Fortunately, however, Coca-Cola’s packaging isn’t made using the carbon black pigment – so it’s fully recyclable.

Beyond that, most people have now developed very negative views on plastic generally. But plastic packaging has an important role to play in preventing good food from going off and ending up as waste. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing if we can recycle it easily.

Everyone can do their bit

A lot of packaging makers think they’ve found the solution to the plastic problem by moving to compostable packaging. While ‘compostable’ sounds like it will have minimal impact on the environment, it has to be recycled and disposed of in a precise way if it’s to be beneficial. Otherwise it can cause more problems than the usual plastic it’s replacing.

Last year, WRAP launched The UK Plastics Pact. It will work with big companies – like Coca Cola – and big supermarkets to help ensure that plastic packaging is not unfairly demonised, and that the most sustainable types of plastics are used in packaging in the future. And we also have initiatives underway trailing ways we can recycle plastic made with carbon black.

What are the biggest challenges facing you at WRAP?

Everything WRAP does is based on getting the right evidence about how people and businesses can be more sustainable. That means we do a lot of work to keep up with the latest technology and insights, as well as understanding people’s motivations and interests. In a fast-changing world, it can sometimes feel like there’s always more to focus on and more research needed – but that’s also one of the most exciting aspects of life at WRAP.

WRAP works with governments, businesses and consumers. How does your approach differ dependent on who you’re talking to?

To put it in a nutshell, WRAP works in the space between governments, businesses, local authorities and citizens to drive a common understanding and vison to create a more sustainable environment.

This means that, on one hand, we need to create initiatives like The UK Plastics Pact, to help businesses make changes to their plastic packaging and come together to collaborate on the big challenges.

What does the future hold for recycling?

On the other hand, we run a number of consumer-facing campaigns – Recycle Now, Love Food Hate Waste and Love Your Clothes – which help people understand more about how they can help the environment at home by recycling more, reducing food waste, and having a more sustainable approach to clothing.

WRAP spends a lot of time working with big organisations, but how important is changing individual people’s perceptions?

It’s important that everybody feels empowered to do their bit for the environment. More and more people are taking steps to reduce their consumption, prevent waste and recycle more – and small changes can make a huge difference.

WRAP collecting waste out in the field

As an example, if the energy that would be saved if every person in the UK recycled just one more plastic bottle every week for a year could power Wembley Stadium for 14 years. Local authorities can help by providing clear information to their residents on what to do, and businesses can help by clearly labelling their bottles.  

Beyond recycling, what is the one thing you would ask of the average person to do more of to invoke positive, sustainable change?

A really big thing everyone can do is try to reduce the amount of edible food and drink that goes in the bin. Our research has found that a UK household wastes on average the equivalent of eight meals a week. Simple things like not buying too much, storing food in the right way and cooking the right portions can make a real difference.

What will be the main recycling talking points in 2019? And how can we all act to positively influence them?

Single-Use Plastic was coined ‘word of the year’ for 2018, and it doesn’t look set to disappear in 2019.  However, there’s a lot of money on fashion being the next ‘plastics’, and WRAP has been working on sustainable clothing for a while now, so we are watching carefully to see where this goes.

We already know that if we care for the clothes we buy, they last longer, which can have a significant impact on the environment. It’s great to see so many people interested in how they can buy and enjoy clothes in an environmentally-friendly way. Our Love Your Clothes campaign has plenty of tips and information to help people along the way.

Do you know your recyclables from your single-use?

What does WRAP have planned for 2019?

Launching The UK Plastics Pact last year was a huge success. Coca Cola is one of over 100 businesses, retailers and brands working towards ambitious targets to eliminate problematic single use plastic packaging, increase the amount of plastic recycled, and make all plastic packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.

It’s a big task and there’s a lot to do, but I’m encouraged to see how hard everybody is working across the sector to create a plastics system that works and prevents plastics from polluting our neighbourhoods and oceans.

Want to do your bit for your neighbourhood? Find out everything you need to know about this year’s Great British Spring Clean.