Packet In: Pilot launched for household collection of flexible plastic

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Credit: TOMRA, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste
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Credit: TOMRA, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste

Industry-led consortium aims to recruit local authorities to take part in new FlexCollect project

A three-year pilot to understand how to incorporate flexible plastics-used in the packaging of many consumer goodsinto household recycling services has been launched this week by an industry-led consortium, ahead of the government's goal to introduce consistent nationwide recycling collections across the UK from 2027.

The FlexCollect project will be the most extensive pilot to date for the household collection and recycling of flexible plastic packaging. The pilot has been initiated by the £2.9m Flexible Plastic Fund (FPF) and is being co-funded by UK Research and Innovation's Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge (SSPP) and Zero Waste Scotland.

While flexible plastic represents 22 per cent of all UK consumer plastic packaging in 2020, only eight per cent was recycled, largely as a result of limited collection services and recylcing capacity.

However, last month the government announced that collections of recyclable plastic film and flexible packaging would be introduced for all households across the UK by March 2027.

The new pilot project will bring together the cross-sector expertise of industry and government partners, including SUEZ, RECOUP, LARAC, and WRAP, as well as Defra and the UKRI. Companies which have backed the FPF include Mars UK, PepsiCo and Unilever.

"Alongside our work on front of store collections with retailers and recyclers, FPF FlexCollect will enable us to deepen and accelerate understanding of the flexible plastics recycling chain and its complexities through the lens of kerbside collections," said Gareth Morton, discovery manager at Ecosurety and FPF FlexCollect project lead for the Flexible Plastic Fund. "It is a great opportunity for our members to get really involved and help to make flexible plastics recycling a reality quicker."

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 of the project.

Cheltenham Borough Council is the first local authority to join the scheme with more local authorities being recruited.  

Resources and Waste Minister Jo Churchill said FlexCollect would provide valuable evidence to support the government's proposals to roll out nationwide collections of plastic film from all households and businesses. "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," she said.

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.

"Consistent collection of plastic bags and wrapping directly from householders is coming and, building on existing collections and trials across the UK, we need more information on how best to roll this out," said Claire Shrewsbury, director of insights and innovation at WRAP. "Early piloting will be invaluable for local authorities in the roll out and this aligns with the strategy for The UK Plastics Pact."

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