Five of the UK’s largest branded manufacturers have collaborated to form a £1 million fund to help make flexible plastic recycling economically viable for recyclers and easier for consumers.
The Flexible Plastic Fund is a UK industry first and is being led by Ecosurety with support from environmental charity, Hubbub. In collaboration with retailers, recyclers and manufacturers - including Mars UK, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever - the Fund intends to improve flexible plastic recycling and reduce plastic pollution by giving the material a stable value.
This will in turn increase the supply of recycled plastic enabling industry to become more ‘circular’ and meet the forthcoming UK plastic packaging tax obligations. This will motivate investment in much needed jobs and infrastructure to make flexible plastic recycling a financially sustainable system in the UK.
A guaranteed minimum value
Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have already signed up to support the initiative by hosting flexible plastic collection points in selected stores across the UK and several other major retailers are set to follow suit.
As a result, recycling this material will become increasingly accessible to consumers, as they will be able to recycle all types of flexible plastic packaging with participating retailers. New research from the University of Sheffield undertaken in January 2021 suggests there is strong consumer demand for recycling flexible plastic with 95% of participants saying they would be willing to recycle their flexible plastics.
With just 16% of UK local authorities currently offering household collection of flexible plastics, the amounts of this material collected for recycling are low. Flexible plastics include plastic bags, wrappers, films, pouches, packets and sachets and is described as ‘plastic bags and wrapping’, ‘soft plastics’ or ‘flexible plastics’. The Fund will guarantee a minimum value of £100 per tonne of recycled product to incentivise recyclers to process flexible plastic.
UK based flexible plastic recycling
The long-term ambition of the Fund is to drive progress towards creating a circular, UK based flexible plastic recycling market that allows flexible plastic recycling via household collections. As part of the UK’s drive to boost recycling, WRAP recently announced new recommendations to support flexible plastic recycling.
Flexible plastic represented 22% of all UK consumer plastic packaging in 2019 but only 6% was recycled. This type of plastic must be processed in a different way to other plastics due to its unique properties - it often contaminates rigid plastic recycling and clogs up machinery – something that could be overcome by creating a separate flexible plastic recycling stream.
The initiative will provide fully audited transparency – at least 80% of the plastics collected will be recycled in the UK – rising to 100% by 2023. Until 2023, where there are currently limits in UK capacity and technology, up to 20% could be exported to qualifying facilities in Europe only. All material will be fully traceable and tracked from the collector through to new products.
Incentivising the development of a circular model
Unlike many other schemes, recyclers will only be paid if the plastic is definitely recycled. The manufacturers contributing to the Flexible Plastic Fund will then be able to access the Packaging Recovery Notes generated by this high-quality, tracked recycling scheme.
The recycled plastic will be turned into a range of products including non-food grade plastic, non-food-grade film and food-grade film. Through its graded payment hierarchy, the Flexible Plastic Fund is actively incentivising the development of a circular model of production where flexible plastic packaging can be recycled into plastic packaging, including food-grade, again and again.
The Flexible Plastic Fund is calling for recyclers, manufacturers and retailers to get in touch to play their role in this vital scheme that is driving solutions to flexible plastic waste in the UK.
Making it easy for consumers to recycle
Robbie Staniforth Head of Innovation and Policy at Ecosurety commented “Historically the UK recycling system has not provided enough motivation to recycle flexible plastics. By creating a sustainable market for this material, longer term improvements can be made to ensure the flexible plastic that remains necessary for packaging is reliably recycled and eventually contributes to a circular economy, thereby tackling plastic pollution.”
“We hope that by boosting this infrastructure, government and local authorities will be motivated to quickly facilitate flexible plastic recycling in the UK by making it easy for consumers to recycle via household collections in the future.”
Rebecca Pow, Environment Minister commented “Plastic pollution poses a major threat to our precious environment and wildlife, and that’s why the Government is committed to eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. Through our plans for consistent recycling collections, extended producer responsibility for packaging manufacturers, a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, and a world-leading plastic packaging tax, we will go further and faster to recycle more plastic and throw less away."
“I very much welcome the new Flexible Plastic Fund which will help to recycle more plastic, and I encourage retailers, manufacturers and recyclers to lend their support.”
Joining together as a force for good
Mark Pawsey, MP and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Packaging Manufacturing Industry commented “It’s really encouraging to see some of the UK’s largest brands and retailers come together with the launch of the Flexible Plastic Fund. This will give flexible plastic recycling the kick-start it needs to be viable on a much larger scale."
"I believe industry-led collaboration is at the heart of tackling many of the environmental challenges facing us. I hope to see more and more corporations joining together as a force for good over the coming months.”
Marija Rompani, Director of Ethics & Sustainability at the John Lewis Partnership, commented "This initiative could be the spring board needed to change the way we handle flexible plastics in the UK, creating a recycling system that is both accessible to the public, circular and UK based."
"In support, we're currently conducting a trial in 37 of our stores to allow customers to drop off their flexible plastics waste - from crisp packets to bubble wrap and cling film, which we hope will provide us with the intelligence needed to roll out more widely in the future.”
Claire Hughes, Director of Production, Packaging & Innovation at Sainsbury's, commented "We’re proud to sign up to the Flexible Plastic Fund and becoming members of the initiative is the latest move in our mission to reduce, reuse, replace and recycle plastic in our own operations. Joining the Fund will give our customers access to a flexible plastic recycling system that we can all have confidence in."
"As part of our commitment to reduce plastic packaging by 50% by 2025 across the Sainsbury’s business, we’re dedicated to working with our suppliers, manufacturers and third party organisations to continue exploring innovative ways to support a circular economy and to make it as easy as possible for our customers to recycle."
Request a collection point
For more information about the Fund and how to request a nearby collection point, please visit the Flexible Plastic Fund website: www.flexibleplasticfund.org.uk
Marketing projects specialist
Ben joined the team at the beginning of 2015 and helps drive marketing communications and projects for Ecosurety, including project managing the launch of the Ecosurety Exploration Fund and website content development.