Plastic reduction targets look set to be missed unless businesses urgently increase the recyclability of flexible packaging.
WRAP made the call to action as it revealed only 4% of flexible packaging is currently recycled despite accounting for a quarter of all UK consumer plastic packaging.
Flexible plastic packaging often comes in the form of food bags, wrapping and films. Although it can play an important role in preserving food and preventing waste, WRAP said urgent cross-sector action was needed to address the complex mix of challenges which prevent the majority of flexible packaging from being recycled. These include poor design, limited collection infrastructure and a lack of recycling capacity and end markets.
Members of WRAP’s UK plastics pact, who account for around 85% of plastic packaging on UK supermarket shelves, are working towards all plastic packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, and increasing the amount that gets recycled to 70%.
Peter Maddox, director of WRAP UK, said developing a recycling system for flexible plastics was “undoubtedly the biggest challenge that we and our UK plastics pact members face in order to meet the pact’s targets by 2025.
“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,” said Maddox.
WRAP said creating a circular economy for flexible plastic packaging would require innovation and investment in designing packaging that can be recycled and sorted. It also called for implementation of kerbside collection in all local authority areas; investment in sorting and reprocessing capacity and capabilities; and ensuring recycled flexible plastic packaging has strong and stable end markets.
Some companies, such as TerraCycle, are already providing free collection of flexible packaging materials, such as crisp packets, from homes, offices and schools as part of industry-funded initiatives.