...and it couldn’t come at a better time. Five of the UK’s largest brands: Mars UK, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever, have collaborated to form a £1 million fund to 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 producer compliance scheme, Ecosurety, with support from Hubbub.

How the fund works

The unique funding model will overcome many of the barriers that have hindered flexible plastic recycling to-date:

  • It offers a guaranteed minimum price of £100 per tonne for recycled product to incentivise recyclers to process flexible plastics. This guaranteed price increases to £300 for recycled plastic that is turned into food-grade materials which will drive a more circular approach.

  • The minimum price is only paid when there is independently audited evidence that the materials have been recycled. This level of transparency and payment on results is significantly different from most existing schemes which are, at best, opaque.

  • The target is to redistribute at least 80% of funds to recycling undertaken in the UK with the remaining 20% going to European processors until 2023, when 100% of recycling must occur in the UK. This will create jobs and build capacity in the UK. The ambition is to use the fund to shift more investment into the UK, reducing the risk of the UK exporting plastic waste to distant countries.

  • It is collaborative and scalable. The ambition is to increase the number of investor companies, participating retailers and recycling companies with another announcement due later this year about a further expansion. For retailers they can use the fund to underpin their own recycling campaigns giving them the confidence that there is a secure price and a fully audited recycling process.

  • It will build the UK’s capacity to recycle flexible plastics and encourage consumers to start recycling this material. This will be essential in the drive to getting these materials incorporated into household recycling collections which is the ultimate objective of the partnership.

Transforming the system

The recycled plastic will be turned into a range of products including non-food grade plastic, non- food-grade film and food-grade film. Crucially the graded fund payment system is designed to make it more economically viable to transform collected materials into food-grade film which environmentally is the most beneficial route.

Creating a recycling solution for flexible plastic is important, in 2019 flexible plastic represented 22% of all UK consumer plastic packaging but only 6% was recycled.* This is because flexible 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.

Public demand for creating a solution

The broad ambitions of the Fund have public backing. Recent polling* commissioned by Hubbub with a cross-representation of 3,000 members of the public revealed that 79% of respondents think their local authority should include flexible plastic in their household recycling collection. Currently, just 16%* of local authorities provide this service.

The polling revealed that household recycling would boost collection rates with 75% of those polled agreeing they would be willing to recycle through this route compared to 63% who indicated they would be willing to take flexible plastics to their local supermarket for recycling.

Polling also highlighted the need for clear communications and stronger evidence about the recycling process. 60% of respondents stated they are confused about what they should be doing when it comes to recycling flexible plastics, whilst less than half (47%) were confident the collected materials were being properly recycled.

Get involved

On the launch announcement, Ecosurety, Hubbub and the core group of investors are calling for recyclers, manufacturers and retailers to get in touch to play their role in the development of this vital scheme. 

VISIT THE FUND WEBSITE TO FIND OUT MORE

*References
Packflow Covid-19 Phase 1: Plastic (Oct20)
Censuswide Polling Analysis – Flexible Plastic (Apr21)
Recoup Plastic Collection Survey (2019)