WRAP urges cross-sector action now to develop a recycling system for soft flexible packaging, such as bags and wrapping.
The call to action from the sustainability not-for-profit, which leads the UK Plastics Pact, comes as it has published a roadmap aimed at galvanizing action - ‘Creating a circular economy for flexible plastic packaging’.
Around 85% of plastic packaging on UK supermarket shelves originates from UK Plastics Pact member organisations. Collectively, Pact members are working towards all plastic packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, and increasing the amount that gets recycled to 70%.
Only 4% of flexible packaging is currently recycled however, despite the fact that it accounts for 25% of all UK consumer plastic packaging by weight. The problem is compounded by the fact that very few local authorities collect flexible plastic and it can be made from many different types of plastic which makes recycling problematic.
Developing a circular economy for plastics
The new roadmap published by WRAP sets out five key areas where efforts should be focused in order to develop a circular economy for flexible plastics:
- Simplifying the design of packaging so it is easier to recycle
- Over the next few years, capitalising on the front of store collection points already provided by many supermarkets
- In the long term, implementing collection directly from people’s houses across all local authority areas
- Investing in sorting and reprocessing capacity and capabilities
- Ensuring recycled flexible plastic packaging has strong and stable end markets
WRAP notes that positive action has already started, with a new facility opened earlier this year by UK Plastics Pact member Jayplas, capable of recycling 80,000 tonnes of plastic bags and wrappers per year.
The biggest challenge
Peter Maddox, Director of WRAP, commented “Developing a recycling system for flexible plastics is undoubtedly the biggest challenge that we and our UK Plastics Pact members face in order to meet the Pact’s targets by 2025."
“Citizens are frustrated by flexible plastics because our household bins are full of them, and they are a highly visible pollutant which are easily blown into waterways and hedgerows."
“Our starting point will always be to identify where our members can remove plastic packaging. But where flexible plastic packaging serves an important purpose, such as preserving food or for hygiene reasons, it is imperative that we have the means to recycle it."
“This will require significant investment and innovation across the entire supply chain. It’s a tall order and we’re at the start of a challenging journey, but our members are fully behind the ambition we have set out in the roadmap, and together we are tackling it head on.”
Actively collaborating across industry
Head of partnerships at Ecosurety, Jon Brookes, commented "This report highlights one of the biggest problems facing packaging producers today."
"Whilst some of the flexible plastic packaging placed on the market is unnecessary and can be easily eliminated, there is also a significant proportion that serves a unique purpose with viable alternatives difficult to specify."
"Solving the collection and recycling of these materials is critical and Ecosurety is actively collaborating across industry to help solve this problem."
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, some supermarkets have temporarily removed flexible plastic recycling points. Consumers are advised to check with their local supermarket.
Support for UK Plastics Pact members
Ecosurety is a UK Plastics Pact member, acting as a technical advisor. We currently work with various members to provide data analysis and reporting, helping them to identify opportunities for improvements and visualise their progress towards the targets.
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.