Mondelēz International has collaborated with Mars UK, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever to set up a £1 million fund to help make flexible plastic recycling economically viable for recyclers and easier for consumers in the UK.
The Flexible Plastic Fund is a first in the UK industry and is being led by producer compliance scheme, Ecosurety, with support from the environmental charity, Hubbub.
The Fund will collaborate with manufacturers, retailers and recyclers 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.
Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have already signed up to support the initiative by hosting flexible plastic collection points in selected stores across the UK, Mondelēz said.
Head of innovation and policy at Ecosurety, Robbie Staniforth, 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."
Flexible plastic comprised 22% of all UK consumer plastic packaging in 2019, but only 6% was recycled.
It includes plastic bags, wrappers, films, pouches, packets and sachets and is described as 'plastic bags and wrapping', 'soft plastics' or 'flexible plastics'.
During recycling, flexible plastic requires a different processing method as it often contaminates rigid plastic recycling and clogs up machinery.
Around 95% of consumers would be willing to recycle their flexible plastics, new research from the University of Sheffield suggests.
Currently, just 16% of local authorities in the UK offer household collection of flexible plastics.
Mark Pawsey, MP and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Packaging Manufacturing Industry, said, "It's really encouraging to see some of the UK's largest brands and retailers come together with the launch of the Flexible Plastic Fund.
"I believe industry-led collaboration is at the heart of tackling many of the environmental challenges facing us. I hope to see more and more corporations joining together as a force for good over the coming months."
The Fund will guarantee a minimum value of £100 per tonne of recycled product to incentivise 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, the initiative will likely export up to 20% of the plastic to qualifying facilities in Europe due to limited capacity and technology in the UK.
All materials in the recycling process will be fully traceable and tracked from the collector to new products.
'An Important Step'
Louise Stigant, UK managing director at Mondelēz International, said, "The Flexible Plastics Fund is an important step to ensuring packaging is collected, sorted and recycled in the UK.
"Meaningful change can only come when everyone collaborates, from companies, governments, waste management organisations to consumers."
Recyclers will only be paid if the plastic is recycled, unlike other schemes.
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 various products, including non-food grade plastic, non-food-grade film and food-grade film, Mondelēz added.