Major project to boost flexible plastic packaging recycling launches

A group of various kind of trash in plastic bags on wooden table

FlexCollect, the UK’s largest collaborative project to support the collection and recycling of flexible plastic packaging, has launched today with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) support.

The multi-million-pound project announced today, 19 May 2022, will pilot household collections of flexible plastic packaging waste, to significantly increase recovery and recycling rates.

The project is co-funded by:

In addition, further in-kind support is being provided from industry stakeholders including:

  • Ecosurety
  • SUEZ Recycling & Recovery UK
  • WRAP.

The challenge with flexible plastics

Flexible plastic packaging, such as film, bags and wrapping, plays an important role in transporting food and other consumer goods to the user in a safe and hygienic way.

It protects products from damage as well as helping to maximise shelf life and minimise food waste.

However, it poses a considerable challenge when it comes to recycling.

In 2020, flexible plastic packaging represented 22% of all UK consumer plastic packaging.

However, only around 8% of this material was recovered for recycling, according to RECOUP’s household plastic collections survey 2021.

One of the key barriers to improving the recycling rate is establishing effective methods of collecting waste film from householders. As a low value and low density material, it is costly to recover.

Other challenging factors include:

  • higher levels of food contamination on waste packaging
  • the technical challenges associated with sorting including:
    • the variety of plastic polymer types
    • colours
    • multiple material layers.

Providing the evidence for change

FlexCollect will help to build a detailed understanding of how best to incorporate flexible plastic packaging into existing household collection services, across different geographies and demographics, to maximise recovery and recycling.

Working with participating local authorities, including Cheltenham Borough Council, it will provide financial support and expertise to deliver a series of innovative collection and recycling pilots until 2025.

The evidence and shared learning from these pilots will help support local authorities to roll out new recycling collections.

This will help local authorities to keep in line with the government’s proposals to introduce recyclable plastic film and flexible packaging household collections in England by March 2027.

The data and insights will be publicly shared to help stimulate the development of end markets and recycling infrastructure for flexible plastic packaging.

FlexCollect is also fully aligned with the WRAP-led UK Plastics Pact, Roadmap 2025: Creating a circular economy for flexible plastic packaging.

Supporting the wider agenda

The SSPP challenge will  support wider government commitments to reduce the environmental impact of packaging and reduce plastic waste.

In addition, the SSPP challenge has direct objectives to support research and innovation needed to deliver the UK Plastics Pact targets:

  1. Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery model.
  2. 100% of plastics packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
  3. 70% of plastics packaging effectively recycled or composted.
  4. 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging.

Building vital understanding

SSPP challenge Director Paul Davidson said:

Without significant progress on recycling levels for flexible plastics packaging, it will be difficult for the UK to meet the targets set out in the UK Plastics Pact.

This cross-sector initiative brings together government, local authorities, packaging producers and retailers, with the waste industry.

It will build vital understanding of how to develop efficient and cost-effective recycling collections for this material.

In addition, it will provide important insights into operational and cost considerations, as well as effective communications with residents.

Reducing the amount of plastic pollution

Resources and Waste Minister Jo Churchill said:

Plastic films and flexible packaging make up a huge proportion of our waste and we all want to see more of this material recycled.

Our plans to introduce consistency in recycling and encourage more recyclable packaging through extended producer responsibility will significantly reduce the amount of plastic polluting our natural environment.

This innovative project will provide valuable evidence to support our proposals to roll out nationwide collections of plastic film from all households and businesses.

Further information

About UKRI’s SSPP challenge

The SSPP challenge aims to establish the UK as a leading innovator in smart and sustainable plastic packaging for consumer products.

It has £60 million in funding that will be complemented by £149 million from industry.

The challenge will deliver cleaner growth across the supply chain, with a dramatic reduction in plastic waste entering the environment by 2025.

Part of this funding will develop and demonstrate at scale, new business models for reuse and refill, as well as behavioural change.

SSPP will be delivered by UKRI.

Find out more detail on the SSPP challenge.

About the Flexible Plastic Fund (FPF) FlexCollect

FPF FlexCollect is a £2.9 million pilot to collect and recycle flexible plastic packaging from households in the UK.

Initiated and led by FPF, the project benefits from the cross-industry expertise of leading industry and government partners, including:

  • Defra,
  • Ecosurety
  • SUEZ recycling and recovery UK
  • WRAP
  • Zero Waste Scotland.

Find out more about FPF.

Top image:  Credit: shironosov, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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