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Fund to boost flexible plastic recycling

Five of the UK’s largest food manufacturers are to join forces to increase recycling rates for flexible plastics.

FMCG giants Mars UK, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever have formed a £1m fund to make flexible plastic recycling economically viable for recyclers and easier for consumers.

The scheme, which is being led by producer compliance scheme, Ecosurety, with support from environmental charity, Hubbub, 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 with the aim of driving a more circular economy.

Hubbub said the new fund would help build the UK’s capacity to recycle flexible plastics and encourage consumers to start recycling flexible materials, which include plastic films and crisp packets. It said this capacity building would be essential in the drive to get flexible materials incorporated into household recycling collections which is the ultimate objective of the partnership.

In 2019, flexible plastic represented 22% of all UK consumer plastic packaging but only 6% was recycled due to issues around contamination of regular plastic waste streams and the need to process flexible packaging separately.

Recycled plastic from the partnership will be turned into a range of products including non-food grade plastic, non- food-grade film and food-grade film.

Hubbub said the unique funding model would overcome many of the barriers that have hindered flexible plastic recycling to-date. 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, according to Hubbub.

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. The ambition is to use the fund to shift more investment into the UK, reducing the risk of exporting plastic waste to distant countries.

Another announcement is due later this year about a further expansion of the partnership with the ambition to increase the number of investor companies, participating retailers and recycling companies.

Retailers 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, Hubbub said.

In March, Tesco announced it had started putting flexible plastic recycling points into 171 stores in the southwest of England and Wales with plans to roll out to all large stores nationwide.

Recent polling commissioned by Hubbub revealed that 79% of people believe their local authority should include flexible plastics in their household recycling collection. Currently, just 16% of local authorities provide this service.