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1 May 2021

International study finds grocery packaging less recyclable in the UK than other countries

Which? teamed up with consumer groups across the world to look at the recyclability of popular grocery packaging
Popular grocery products

The packaging of popular branded groceries is less recyclable in the UK than some other countries, global research inspired by Which? has revealed.

We teamed up with eight consumer groups in other countries around the world to analyse the packaging of 11 globally available household products, such as Coca-Cola, Whiskas cat food and Nutella hazelnut spread.

The research assessed whether the packaging of the products is recyclable in practice in each participating country and how well it was labelled.

The snapshot investigation found that consumers were unable to easily recycle all 11 of the products in any of the nine countries taking part - with the UK finishing fifth out of the nine when comparing the total amount of recyclable packaging by weight.

How recyclable is grocery packaging in different countries?

The nine global research teams - from Australia, Brazil, France, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Portugal and the UK, led by Consumers International - analysed the packaging of 11 popular household products in February and March 2021. We measured how recyclable the packaging was in practice and assessed its labelling.

The products chosen were ones widely available across all nine countries. They were picked to be as similar as possible, but sometimes the size, exact product name and packaging differed depending on the country.

On average, just over a third (35%) of the packaging weight of all 11 products could not be easily recycled across the nine countries.

For the UK, on average just under a third (32%) of the packaging weight Which? analysed could not be easily recycled in practice. Five out of the 11 products had packaging that could not be fully recycled in practice - Pringles, Heinz Tomato Ketchup, M&Ms, Kit Kat, and Whiskas cat food.

woman recycling

Which groceries were the best and worst?

While different countries have different recycling options, our study found that some brands use packaging that is more universally difficult to recycle. The products with the least recyclable packaging across all nine countries were Pringles (an average of 84% of its packaging weight was not easily recyclable), M&M's peanut chocolate (67%) and Kit Kat (64%).

The products with the most recyclable packaging across all nine countries were Coca-Cola's aluminium can pack, Nescafe Original coffee jar and Nutella hazelnut spread.

Product - UK versionPackaging recyclability - UKPackaging recyclability - international average
Coca-Cola original taste (12x150ml)100%98%
Dove nourishing silk body wash (450ml)100%82%
Heinz tomato ketchup (250g)77%81%
Kit Kat four finger bar (41.5g)0%36%
Peanut M&Ms (125g)0%33%
Nescafe original jar (300g)100%88%
Nutella + cocoa hazelnut chocolate spread (350g)100%84%

How different countries compare

The countries that came out top were Hong Kong, where an average of only 7% of packaging weight could not be easily recycled in practice, and Portugal (10%). Australia (14%) and India (23%) also had a lower average proportion of packaging weight that could not be recycled, compared to the UK, which had 32%.

The worst countries for recycling opportunities in the snapshot investigation were Brazil (92%) and New Zealand (57%).

Recycling infrastructure and product manufacturing both have a significant impact on the recyclability of packaging in each country. Here in the UK, Which? believes more can be done to improve the recyclability of our grocery packaging.

Why labelling needs to improve

None of the branded products analysed had clear recycling labelling on their packaging across all nine countries. In some cases, labels were misleading, unclear and confusing.

While some of the products Which? analysed in the UK were clearly labelled with local recycling information, a third (four out of 11) did not have any recycling information on the packaging. Some products that can be easily recycled in the UK didn't include that information on the packaging - risking the packaging being thrown away in general waste.

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.