Manufacturers have been urged to stop using a “smorgasboard” of materials in packaging after an analysis found that only a third of plastics used by households can be recycled.
The study by the Local Government Association found that 525,000 tonnes of plastic pots, tubs and trays were used by households every year but only 169,145 tonnes were recyclable.
The association called on manufacturers to work with councils to develop a plan to stop unrecyclable plastic from entering the environment in the first place.
Packaging for food can be made from a variety of polymers, including “low grade” and non-recyclable types such as polystyrene. Some plastic packaging is made from a combination of polymers, such as in the body and lid of a yoghurt pot, which makes recycling difficult.
In one example of particularly inefficient packaging, microwave meals are often encased in predominately black plastic material for aesthetic reasons. However, black is the only colour that cannot be easily scanned by recycling machines and sorted.
Councils want the government to consider a ban on low-grade plastics, and producers and manufacturers to contribute to the cost of collection or disposal.
Alternatives to packaging saturated in polymers include cardboard, paper and higher-grade plastics. For instance, if margarine tubs were made from the same material as plastic water bottles, they would be recyclable.
Judith Blake, the LGA’s environment spokeswoman, said: “It’s time for manufacturers to stop letting a smorgasboard of unrecyclable and damaging plastic flow into our environment. Some of the measures that could help us reduce landfill and increase recycling are no- brainers; for instance, microwave meals should be stored in a container that is any other colour than black, to enable quicker recycling.
“We’ve been calling for producers of unrecyclable material to develop a plan to stop this from entering the environment for years. That needs to happen urgently, but the government should now consider banning low-grade plastics, particularly those for single use, in order to increase recycling.
“If manufacturers don’t want to get serious about producing material which can be recycled and protecting our environment, then they should at least contribute towards the cost that local taxpayers have to pay to clear it up.”