An industry-backed trial to collect soft plastic from doorsteps across the UK has shown results improve dramatically when there are weekly collections.
An interim report by the FlexCollect project, which is backed by companies including Unilever, Nestlé and Mondelez, shows the amount of plastic collected per household nearly trebled in trial areas that had weekly collections, compared to those which ran fortnightly collections.
The results suggest the system of extended producer responsibility (EPR), due to come into force next year, will require the industry to finance weekly collections of soft plastic if they are to achieve effective recycling of the material.
The £3m trial was launched by the Flexible Plastic Fund (FPF) in May last year, against a backdrop of shocking estimates showing more than 215 billion items of flexible plastic packaging, weighing in at a massive 895,000 tonnes, is being placed on the market each year in the UK.
Currently less than 15% of waste collection authorities collect flexible plastic packaging, with those that do offering only a patchwork service.
The FPF consortium, which also includes organisations such as SUEZ recycling, Wrap and Ecosurety, has struggled to find councils with the capacity to run trials.
It originally intended to run pilots in nine council areas but so far only seven have signed up, including Cheltenham, Newcastle and Reading.
“In a number of instances, trials did not proceed due to insufficient capacity at the transfer or sorting stations,” the interim report found.
However, the pilot areas that did run the trial found a “clear link between frequency.of collection and the number of bags presented per household per week”.
So far the trial, which is at the halfway stage, has collected on average nearly 0.5 bags of soft plastic per household in those areas with weekly collections, and just 0.17 for fortnightly.
“While more data is required for validation, these findings show a weekly collection could drive higher participation and therefore more material collected,” added the report.
It also showed pilots with weekly collections resulted in higher participation from the industry, with 47% participation for fortnightly and 64% participation for weekly collections.
Under much-delayed plans published by the government last year, Simpler Recycling reforms will require all local authorities in England to collect the same recyclable waste streams for recycling, including flexible plastic.
However, there is doubt over the frequency of flexible plastic collections, which is expected to be decided by local authorities but heavily influenced by the funding they receive from EPR.
EPR is due to start assessing producer contributions from January next year, with the system being extended to cover local authority costs from 1 April 2025.
Producers are due to start making payments in October next year.
Gareth Morton, discovery manager at Ecosurety and a representative of the fund, said: “These initial results are really positive and an encouraging proof of concept for further rollout and expansion of capacity.
“We now need to run some of the pilots at scale to gather more data, to properly investigate the longer-term operational and financial impacts.”