FlexCollect pilots show strong engagement with kerbside collection of flexible plastics

Halfway through its timeline, the FlexCollect project, which aims to test the feasibility for collecting flexible plastic packaging from households, has conducted surveys of those using the service, finding 89 per cent of respondents ‘very satisfied’ with inclusion of this service in their recycling.

FlexCollect is is trialing separate collection of flexible plastic packagingThe project, run by a consortium including SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, WRAP, RECOUP and Ecosurety, is testing the kerbside collection of flexible plastic packaging across nine waste collection authorities over three years. This initiative comes against the backdrop of Defra’s recent announcement of Simpler Recycling and its ambition to make kerbside collection of flexible plastic packaging mandatory by March 2027.

The FPF FlexCollect interim report 2024 found overall participation among monitored pilots was 60 per cent, rising to 64 per cent where a weekly collection of the service was offered.

So far, the trials have been rolled out to seven local authorities, either source segregated or twin stream, covering a total of 30000 households - all of which are provided with collection bags to put their plastic packaging into. So far, the participating authorities are Cheltenham, South Gloucestershire, Maldon, Somerset, Newcastle City, Re3 – Reading, and North Herts, spanning a range of demographics.

The report also highlights the average weight of 291 grams presented per collection bag per household across all pilots, which would be equivalent to 15 kgs a year diverted from disposal.

Bags with flexible plastic collected for recyclingGareth Morton, Discovery Manager at Ecosurety and FPF representative, commented on the project's interim findings: “These initial results are really positive and an encouraging proof of concept for further rollout and expansion of capacity.”

According to the report, analysis of the resulting material finds that it is largely what is targeted and ‘predominantly clean’, with only 10 per cent non-target and non-recyclable and two per cent non-target but recyclable.

Thomas Merry, Commercialisation and Innovations Manager at SUEZ and Recovery UK said: “It’s been great to see households across all seven pilot authorities embrace the service with strong participation and low levels of contamination.

“As we enter the second half of the project, we’ll bring more households into the trial to gain further insight on the impact of demographics on participation and the amount and type of material collected.”

“By the end of the project in spring 2025 we’ll have collected enough flexible plastics to explore different reprocessing options, providing valuable insights at each stage of the value chain.”
However, the report notes, there is an underlying issue with the availability of effective sorting infrastructure, which is a significant obstacle to the feasibility of widespread adoption for schemes like the ones modelled by FlexCollect.

It states that while ‘reprocessing trials have started with encouraging results’, only a limited amount of material collected’ which has meant that there is not enough data for robust cost analysis at this stage.

The £3 million FlexCollect project, launched in May 2022 with support from Defra, UK Research & Innovation’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge delivered by Innovate UK, and Zero Waste Scotland. The FPF itself is backed by an array of UK companies, including Abel & Cole, Ella’s Kitchen, and Ocado Retail, among others.

Commenting on the next steps for the project Morton added: “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 of collecting plastic bags and wrappings. We also need to do a lot more on reprocessing before the project ends in March 2025.”

“This year is going to be a really exciting one for the project with the planned pilot expansions and increasing the pace of reprocessing trials.”

FPF FlexCollect is organising a series of webinars for stakeholders, to present the findings. These are:
Webinar for the plastics and packaging industry, hosted by INCPEN – 8 February, 12:30pm – 1:30pm
Webinar for local authorities, hosted by LARAC – 19 February, 11:00am – 12:30pm
Webinar for the waste and resource industry – hosted by CIWM – 28 February, 12:30pm 1:30pm

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