The process will be possible thanks to close partnerships between manufacturers, retailers, and recyclers.
Five major UK brands: Mars UK, Mondelez International, Nestle, Pepsi Co, and Unilever, started on May 27th 2021 an initiative called Flexible Plastic Fund in the UK. So far, they’ve contributed £1 million. The objective of this project is to encourage the recycling of flexible packaging, reduce plastic pollution and give the recycled material a fixed and stable value. Recycling flexible packaging would become more affordable for recyclers and easier for consumers. The process will be possible thanks to close partnerships between manufacturers, retailers, and recyclers.
The mechanism at the heart of this initiative works as follows. The businesses interested in being part of the project fund it to become partners. Retailers who join the scheme host collection points at their stores, where consumers can bring flexible plastic packaging waste. Then, recycling companies collect it and take it to approved recycling centers, which turn it into something new, such as non-food grade plastic, non-food-grade film, and food-grade film. If the process is successful, the recycling company is given a PRN (packaging recovery note), certifying that the material has been recovered. The recycling company hands over these PRNs to the fund that rewards them with money in return. The minimum premium for successful recycling of a tonne of waste is £100.
The fund led and supported by Ecosurety and Hubbub, anticipates that the process will increase the supply of recycled plastics by allowing the industry to become more circular. Ultimately, they hope to motivate the investment in jobs and infrastructure necessary to make flexible plastic recycling a financially viable system in the UK. An advantage of this initiative will be transparency as the entire process is tracked, and only PRN-proved recycling will be rewarded with a premium.
“Historically, the UK recycling system has not provided enough motivation to recycle flexible plastics. By creating a sustainable market for this material, longer-term improvements can be made to ensure the flexible plastic that remains necessary for packaging is reliably recycled and eventually contributes to a circular economy, thereby tackling plastic pollution.”, comments Robbie Staniforth, head of innovation and policy at Ecosurety.
Similar initiatives already exist around the world. Organizations such as Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF) in the US and CEFLEX in Europe are developing collaborations inside the flexible packaging value chain to identify technologies to collect, sort, and find outlets for flexible packaging materials.