Europe produces 58 million tonnes of plastic every year.

40% of that is used for packaging.

Only 30% is recycled – albeit the last figure is flattering because we mostly ship the problem off to Asia.


Source – WRAP – UK, 2017

Huge numbers. If it makes it any easier (or worse) to comprehend, just think that 1 million plastic bottles are bought every minute globally. Or more plastic than fish in the Ocean by 2050…..

Hard to believe then, but Asia doesn’t want our waste anymore! The Chinese National Sword 2017 campaign to cut illegal smuggling of foreign waste drew a line in the sand. Indonesia and more recently Malaysia have announced their intentions to curb waste imports. We can’t continue to export the problem. It’s not often I can say my adopted home country of Scotland is leading the way; but on plastic it most definitely is. The recent decision to introduce a deposit return scheme on all single use drinks containers and more importantly to price it at a lofty 20p is a strong statement of intent. C’mon Scotland!

Europe has also recently introduced legislation around plastic. Targets are punchy; 77% of single use plastic to be recycled by 2025 and 90% by 2030. ‘Single use’ even includes things like the filters in cigarettes – apparently they are difficult to recycle…they’re a wee bit toxic…. But roadside collection isn’t enough if we want to meet these targets. The gap between what we consume and what gets collected from households is still too great. And we often consume single use plastic whilst on the go.

People want to do more (or at least they say they do).


Source – Keep Britain Tidy – 2018, UK, 18 years and older, 2,138

And companies are responding too. 150 companies and 16 governments have pledged their support to a New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, a common vision of a circular economy for plastics. Major companies like Carrefour, Colgate-Palmolive, Nestle, SC Johnson, The Coca-Cola Company and Unilever are publicly disclosing their annual plastic packaging volumes and have committed to increased recycled content in their packaging to 25% from a woeful 2% global average. It is hoped that this will stimulate demand for collection and recycling.

I can remember the old deposit return system for glass bottles. Technologies to do the same with plastic bottles already exist and I expect to see more of them in the UK. For instance, ‘reverse vending’ machines can easily be installed across a network of shops. Through deposit return, they reward customers who bring their plastic bottles back. In addition, by keeping materials away from contaminants, the machines ensure a container can maintain its food-grade status and be turned back into another container, avoiding ‘downcycling’ and minimising waste and resources. And retailers don’t mind them, as evidence shows the increased footfall can lead to extra sales.

About the author

Neil Goddin is an investment manager, with responsibility for co-managing both long only and market neutral strategies within the Global Equities team. He also leads the team responsible for building and maintaining the Kames equity investment screen, which provides inputs into the investment process across our equity strategies. Neil joined us in 2012 from LV Asset Management where he was Head of Investment Risk. Prior to that, he worked for WestLB Mellon Asset Management and Deutsche Asset Management in various risk-management roles. He has 20 years’ industry experience (as at 30 April 2019).

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