Flexible Plastic Economically Viable Recycling Scheme

Flexible Plastic Fund is incentivizing the development of a circular model and infrastructure for flexible plastic packaging to be recycled back into plastic packaging.

The Flexible Plastic Fund was launched -in collaboration with the UK’s largest branded manufacturers, Mars UK, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever- to help make flexible plastic recycling economically viable for recyclers and easier for consumers. The £1 million fund is a UK industry first and is being led by producer compliance scheme, Ecosurety, with support from the environmental charity, Hubbub. 

In collaboration with manufacturers, retailers and recyclers, 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 the 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. 

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. 

New research from the University of Sheffield suggests there is strong consumer demand for recycling flexible plastic with 95% of participants saying they would be willing to recycle their flexible plastics. 

Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have already signed up to support the initiative by hosting flexible plastic collection points in selected stores across the UK. 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. 

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 incentivize recyclers to process flexible plastic.

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. 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 (“PRNs”) 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 incentivizing 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. 

Robbie Staniforth Head of Innovation and Policy at Ecosurety said: “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.”

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