Creating a circular economy for flexible plastic packaging

14th July 2020

Galvanising the entire plastics value chain around a common roadmap for flexible plastic packaging. 

Urgent issue
Flexible plastic represents a quarter of all UK consumer plastic packaging.
But only 4% is currently recycled.
Urgent action is required to address the complex challenges that underpin this.
We must act now or risk missing UK Plastics Pact targets.

The Roadmap to 2025

Flexible plastic packaging is generally a resource efficient material; it’s lightweight and can play an important role in protecting food from becoming waste however the system for recyclinig this material in the UK is fragmented.

A coordinated effort involving the entire value chain is required to fix the system to create a circular economy for flexible plastic packaging. We must focus our efforts in: 

  • Designing packaging that can be recycled and sorted.

  • In the short term, capitalising on the front of store collection points provided by many supermarkets.

  • In the long term, implementing collection at kerbside in all local authority areas.

  • Investing in sorting and reprocessing capacity and capabilities.

  • Ensuring recycled flexible plastic packaging has strong and stable end markets.

The roadmap sets out the high level actions that need to be taken by each part of the value chain and a strategy, that aligns with the European programme Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging (CEFLEX), has been developed that spans these areas. 

This work is crucial in working towards The UK Plastics Pact's vision of 'a world where plastic is valued and doesnt polute the environemnt'. And it is critical if we are to achieve the following targets under the Pact: 

  • 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025; and

  • 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted by 2025.

Investment in infrastructure

Steps have been made to move us in the right direction with recent developments in new recycling infrastructure. Pact member Jayplas opened a new facility earlier this year which is capable of recycling 80,000 tonnes of plastic bags and wrappers per year.

Mike Maxwell, Operations Director, Jayplas

“Increasing UK infrastructure for the recycling of flexible plastics makes absolute sense for the environment and the economy. Through investing in new capacity, we are preventing thousands of tonnes of plastics from being shipped abroad, which keeps that material in the UK economy and creates local jobs. There is still a lot more to be done to create a circular economy for flexible plastic packaging, but we are committed to leading the way and will continue to invest in this crucial area.” 

 Peter Maddox, Director, WRAP 

Industry actions 

An overview: 

Packaging design

OBJECTIVE - For all flexible plastic packaging to be designed for mechanical recycling where functionality can be achieved, otherwise for packaging to be compatible with non-mechanical recycling.

OUTCOME - By the end of 2023, all Pact members to have aligned their flexible plastic packaging portfolios to industry agreed guidelines.

Collections and communications

OBJECTIVE - All plastic packaging collected for recycling. 

Establish and publicise front of store (FOS) collection points for flexible plastic packaging from supermarkets as an interim solution.

OUTCOME - All householders to have access to, and widespread use of, flexible plastic packaging recycling facilities. *

*the extent to which this is kerbside collection or retailer collection points is dependent on the outcome of ongoing government consultation.

Sorting, processing, and end markets 

OBJECTIVE - To have an established recycling system for all flexible plastic packaging. Including stable end markets in place across both food grade and non-food grade flexible plastic packaging.

OUTCOME - Significant increase in UK flexible plastic packaging recycling capacity. 

Clarity on the role of non-mechanical recycling and how it operates alongside existing mechanical recycling infrastructure. 

Stable end markets developed and incorporation of recycled content in food grade flexible plastic packaging in practice.