The £2.9m Flexible Plastic Fund FlexCollect project is the most extensive pilot for household collection and recycling of flexible plastic packaging ever undertaken in the UK. It is supported by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
The pilot will help to understand how to incorporate flexibles into existing collection services across different geographies and demographics and develop best practice ahead of the introduction of consistent collections across the UK in 2027. This industry-led project, initiated and led by the Flexible Plastic Fund (FPF), benefits from cross-industry expertise of leading industry and government partners, including Defra, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), SUEZ, RECOUP, LARAC and WRAP. The pilot is co-funded by the Flexible Plastic Fund, Defra, UKRI’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge (SSPP) and Zero Waste Scotland, with participating local authorities financially supported to roll out and operate pilot kerbside collections over the three-year project.
FPF FlexCollect will implement a series of innovative flexible plastic packaging household collection and recycling pilots through 2022 to 2025. The pilot is being managed by a consortium comprising the project co-funders, Ecosurety, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, RECOUP and WRAP. A cross-section of industry stakeholders including LARAC, NAWDO, CIWM and ESA will also be involved to ensure the views of all parts of the value chain involved in the collection and recycling of this material are considered.
Recycling flexible plastic is a considerable challenge: it represented 22% of all UK consumer plastic packaging in 2020 but only 8% was recycled. Last month government announced the introduction of recyclable plastic film and flexible packaging collections for households across the UK by March 2027.
The Flexible Plastic Fund’s project will provide a unique opportunity for government, local authorities, packaging producers and the waste industry to build vital understanding of how to incorporate flexibles into existing collections across different geographies, demographics and collection formats. It will build an evidence base, share learning and develop best practice with key insights into the operational issues, yields and recyclability of flexible packaging, effective communications with residents and the costs of incorporating it into the UK’s current recycling collection systems.
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. It is also fully aligned with the WRAP led UK Plastics Pact ‘Roadmap 2025: Creating a circular economy for flexible plastic packaging’.
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.
Cheltenham Borough Council is the first local authority to join the Pioneer stage, with the other local authorities currently being recruited. They are set to benefit from cross-industry expertise and financial support that will run up to the implementation of packaging Extended Producer Responsibility and consistent recycling collections legislation, easing their transition. These early adopters will also be able to meet increasing consumer demand for better recycling provision, with an enhanced service that will improve their performance.
Commenting on the initiative, Resources and Waste Minister Jo Churchill said: “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.
“This innovative project will provide valuable evidence to support our proposals to roll out nationwide collections of plastic film from all households and businesses.”
Paul Davidson, SSPP Challenge Director said: “Without significant progress on recycling levels for flexible plastics packaging, it will be difficult for the UK to meet the targets set out in the UK Plastics Pact. This cross-sector initiative brings together government, local authorities, packaging producers and retailers, and the waste industry to build vital understanding of how to develop efficient and cost effective recycling collections for this material and will provide important insights into operational and cost considerations, as well as effective communications with residents.”
Claire Shrewsbury, Director Insights and Innovation at WRAP commented: “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. Early piloting will be invaluable for local authorities in the roll out and this aligns with the strategy for The UK Plastics Pact. We look forward to working with the project partners in the years ahead.”
Read the press release in full here.