plastic bags

Wrap UK said developing a recycling system for flexible plastics was the biggest challenge it faced

Urgent action is needed across the food and drink industry to develop a recycling system for soft flexible plastic packaging, such as plastic bags and wrapping, according to Wrap.

The cross-sector call to action comes as the sustainability organisation published a roadmap to galvanise support across the plastics supply chain called ‘Creating a Circular Economy for Flexible Plastic Packaging’.

UK Plastics Pact members, who account for about 85% of plastic packaging on UK supermarket shelves, are working towards all plastic packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, as well as increasing the amount recycled to 70%.

However, Wrap UK director Peter Maddox said developing a recycling system for flexible plastics was “undoubtedly the biggest challenge” faced by the not-for-profit and the members of UK Plastics Pact if they were to meet the 2025 targets.

“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,” he added.

“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.

“This will require significant investment and innovation across the entire supply chain. It’s a tall order and we’re at the start of a challenging journey, but our members are fully behind the ambition we have set out in the roadmap, and together we are tackling it head on.”

The new roadmap sets out five key areas where efforts should be focused to develop a circular economy for flexible plastics:

  • Simplifying the design of packaging so it is easier to recycle
  • Over the next few years, capitalising on the front-of-store collection points already provided by many supermarkets
  • In the long term, implementing collection directly from people’s houses across all local authority areas
  • Investing in sorting and reprocessing capacity and capabilities
  • Ensuring recycled flexible plastic packaging has strong and stable end markets

Wrap said positive action was already underway, including recent developments in new recycling infrastructure. For example, UK Plastics Pact member Jayplas opened a new facility earlier this year capable of recycling 80,000 tonnes of plastic bags and wrappers per year.

Wrap is expected to announce further developments soon.

Environment minister Rebecca Pow added: “Now more than ever, it is vital we push forwards in our efforts to clamp down on plastic waste and rely more on reusable and recyclable materials.

“We are bringing forward ground-breaking initiatives to deliver this, ranging from an extended producer responsibility scheme to a new world-leading tax for firms which produce or import plastic packaging that does not have at least 30% recycled material.

“In combination with this roadmap, we can make positive steps forwards to create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging industry.”