This week the most extensive pilot for household collection and recycling of flexible plastic packaging ever undertaken in the UK, the Flexible Plastic Fund (FPF) FlexCollect project, has been launched.
This industry-led project has been initiated and led by the Flexible Plastic Fund – which is managed by Ecosurety, with Unilever as a founding member - and benefits from cross-industry expertise of leading industry and government partners, including DEFRA, UKRI, SUEZ, RECOUP, LARAC AND WRAP, as well as some of the UK’s leading manufacturers.
The pilot co-funded by the Flexible Plastic Fund, alongside Defra, UKRI’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge (SSPP) and Zero Waste Scotland, will help to understand how to incorporate flexibles into existing collection services across different geographies and demographics and develop best practice ahead of the introduction of consistent collections across the UK in 2027.
Last month the government announced the introduction of recyclable plastic film and flexible packaging collections for households across the UK by March 20271. The Flexible Plastic Fund’s project will provide a unique opportunity for government, local authorities, packaging producers and the waste industry to build vital understanding of how to incorporate flexibles into existing collections across different geographies, demographics and collection formats.
It will build an evidence base, share learnings and develop best practice, with key insights into the operational issues, yields and recyclability of flexible packaging, effective communications with residents and the costs of incorporating it into the UK’s current recycling collection systems.
The data and insights provided will be published to help support local authorities introducing new collections, as well as stimulate the development of end markets and domestic reprocessing infrastructure. It is also fully aligned with the WRAP led UK Plastics Pact ‘Roadmap 2025: Creating a circular economy for flexible plastic packaging’2.
The project will run for three years in two stages. An initial ‘Pioneer Stage’ will involve pilots at four local authorities, with a further five local authorities joining them for an ‘Industrialisation Stage’ six months later, building on the knowledge gained during the first stage.
The flexible plastic challenge
As part of our ambition to create a waste-free world, amongst other targets, we’ve committed to ensuring that all our packaging is recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.
There are plenty of technical challenges we’re tackling on our plastic journey. For packaging to be fully recyclable, not only does the material itself need to be recyclable, but the wider waste infrastructure needs to be in place so it can be collected, sorted and recycled into new products.
Creating this viable circular economy has been trickier for some materials, including flexible plastic which we use for our ice cream wrappers, to seal our food trays, for our laundry capsule pouches and bottle sleeves, and to wrap our products when we are moving our products around from our factories to shelves.
Flexible plastic has been tricky to recycle in the past, as its unique properties mean it can get stuck in or clog up recycling machinery. Recycling flexible plastic is a considerable challenge: it represented 22% of all UK consumer plastic packaging in 2020 but only 8%3 was recycled.
The Flexible Plastic Fund
We want to keep plastic in use for as long as possible in a circular loop by collecting, processing and repeatedly reusing it.
That’s why, alongside four of the of the UK’s other largest branded manufacturers; Mars UK, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, PepsiCo, we launched The Flexible Plastic Fund, a new £1 million fund, to boost flexible plastic recycling in the UK, so it can be re-used again and again.
To unlock the value of flexible plastic, we need to make it widely recyclable in a way that is economically viable and easy and convenient for consumers. That’s why the Flexible Plastic Fund was created.
Learn more about the fund here:
RECOUP Household Plastics Collection Survey 2021