Cross-sector action needed to improve flexible plastics recycling

Cross-section action and government guidance are required to create a recycling system for flexible, low-value plastics such as bags and wrapping, according to new guidance published today (14 July) by WRAP.

Cross-sector action needed to improve flexible plastics recycling

Consumers are demonstrating a steadfast commitment to sustainability.

WRAP, which leads the UK Plastics Pact, has warned that corporates may not be able to reach their packaging commitments unless a new collection and recycling system is developed for soft flexible plastics.

UK Plastics Pact members account for around 85% of all plastic packaging on UK supermarket shelves and are working towards making their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 and increasing recycling rates to 70%.

Pact members will struggle to realise these commitments unless a new recycling system for flexible packaging is produced, WRAP has warned. Flexible plastics account for a quarter of all UK consumer plastic packaging by weight, but just 4% is recycled. Not many local authorities collect this type of plastic as it is difficult to recycle due to consisting of different plastics.

In response, WRAP is calling for cohesive cross-sector agreements, propped up by government support, to simplify the design of the packaging to make it easier to recycle. Front-of-store collection points that are already being utilised by some companies should be prioritised to assist collection while a long-term project to collect the packaging directly from householders is developed.

Investing in sorting a reprocessing capacity and creating a stronger market for the packaging should also be prioritised, according to WRAP.

WRAP UK’s director Peter Maddox said: “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 unnecessary 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.”

WRAP points to Pact member Jayplas as an example of corporate innovation on this front. The company opened a new facility this year that is capable of recycling 80,000 tonnes of plastic bags and wrappers per year.

Pact progress

The UK Plastics Pact commits signatories to four main targets for 2025: eliminating unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign; making all plastic packaging 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable; achieving recycling and composting rates of 70% or more for packaging, and including 30% recycled content across all packaging.

The 127+ members of the pact are set to distribute one billion fewer pieces of “problematic” and unnecessary single-use plastic in 2020 than they did in 2018.

One of the Pact’s core commitments for signatories is to eliminate “problematic” and unnecessary single-use plastic by 2025. WRAP’s latest report reveals strong progress in this area, with one billion fewer items in these categories set to be distributed in 2020 than in 2018. The strongest progress in this space has come from supermarkets, WRAP claims, with most having removed plastic straw multipacks ahead of the Government’s national ban, and all having committed to stop distributing plastic cutlery by the end of 2020.

WRAP also noted strong progress in removing plastic packaging from fresh fruit and vegetables, particularly by WaitroseMorrisonsAsda and Marks & Spencer (M&S). Supermarkets signed up to the Pact have, to date, taken 3,400 tonnes of plastic packaging and 137.5 million plastic stickers off of their produce lines.

Matt Mace

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