The political economies of plastic packaging recycling: addressing persistent challenges concerning recyclability in and beyond Greater Manchester

A photo of plastic items

Society needs to fundamentally reimagine its relationship with plastic packaging.

Recycling remains a core and complicated component of the reimagining required.

The OEDC’s Global Plastics Outlook estimates that a measly 9% of plastic waste was recycled in 2019. Even in places that fare better than the global average, such as the UK, where it is predicted the figure stood at 55% in 2023, vast improvements are needed to stem the flow of plastic packaging into landfill and incineration.

The UK government accepts the ‘need to drive better quantity and quality in recycling’, with stark social and environmental implications carried with inertia.

Taking Greater Manchester as its starting point, this three-year interdisciplinary research project investigates the challenges and opportunities wrapped up with improving plastic packaging recycling by focusing attention on recyclability.

It is accepted that the challenges and opportunities, mirroring the politics of plastic packaging, have diverse social, material, and economic roots.

The project explores these by gathering insight and expertise from across the plastics supply chain (i.e., packaging producers and recyclers; retailers; national policymakers; and local authorities).

Several core questions lie at the heart of the project:

  • Why does plastic packaging recycling remain a persistent challenge?
  • What are the capacities of public and private actors to reimagine and change society’s relationships with plastic packaging and improve recyclability?
  • What are the similarities, differences, and tensions between organisational and business practices and strategies?
  • How could efforts and imaginaries be aligned to improve recyclability and more broadly rates of plastic packaging recycling?

By addressing these questions, the project aims to develop crosscutting knowledge that supports sustainable transitions.

If you would like to learn more, please get in contact with Dr Torik Holmes: