WRAP publishes new roadmap for flexible plastic packaging

A new roadmap for creating a circular economy for soft flexible packaging has been released by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

While the UK recycles a total of 46.2 per cent of its plastic packaging according to the latest UK waste figures, just four per cent of soft flexible plastic packaging is currently recycled, with few local authorities collecting it and its composition of lots of different types of plastic making it hard to recycle.

WRAP’s new roadmap comes under the banner of the UK Plastics Pact, which aims for a plastic packaging recycling rate of 70 per cent and for all plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. The UK Plastics Pact, previously published a list of plastic items to be eliminated by 2025, which included plastic bags and other forms of flexible plastic packaging.

Among the solutions proposed to increase the recycling rate for soft flexible plastic packaging are: designing packaging that can be recycled and sorted; investing in sorting and reprocessing facilities; and ensuring that recycled flexible packaging has strong end markets. In the short term, the roadmap emphasises capitalising on the store collection points provided by supermarkets. In the long term, kerbside collections of flexible packaging must be implemented in all local authority areas.

Peter Maddox, Director of WRAP UK, said: “Developing a recycling system for flexible plastics is undoubtedly the biggest challenge that we and our UK Plastics Pact members face in order to meet the Pact’s targets by 2025.

“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.

“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.”

In recent years, the UK Government has made reducing plastic packaging waste one of its key environmental policies. In 2018, the government committed to eliminate ‘avoidable’ plastic waste by 2042 in its 25 Year Environment Plan. In the same year, the Resources and Waste Strategy laid out plans to introduce an extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme for packaging to increase recyclability and get producers to cover the costs of managing packaging once it becomes waste.

This year, the Environment Bill was reintroduced to Parliament, with new commitments including banning the export of plastic waste to developing countries, while the Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed that the Plastic Packaging Tax rate on plastic packaging containing less than 30 per cent recycled content would be set at £200 per tonne to incentivise the uptake of recycled material in packaging manufacturing.

Commenting on the roadmap, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “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 per cent recycled material.

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

One suggested solution to the problem of soft flexible plastic packaging, particularly when used in food packaging, is to make it out of compostable plastics, so that it can be recycled through the organic waste stream through composting.

In line with government ambitions to reduce plastic waste, when it comes to introducing compostables as an alternative to single-use plastic, support from MPs and the public is strong. In January this year, a cross-party group of MPs and Peers called on the UK Government to invest in compostables, while a recent poll indicated that 85 per cent of Brits believe food packaging should be compostable.

While demand for compostable packaging is growing, confusion remains over where it is best used and how it should be disposed of, leading WRAP to publish guidelines for businesses and the public providing clarity on the use of compostables.

You can read the roadmap on the WRAP website