Promising initial results from FPF FlexCollect flexible plastic kerbside recycling collection pilots
Key findings from the UK’s biggest flexible plastic kerbside recycling collection project:
- Collections have been added successfully into existing kerbside recycling services
- Collections have been really well received - over 89% of households are ‘very satisfied’ with the service across four pilots surveyed
- 60% of households participate regularly and the average weight presented per collection bag per household across all pilots is 291g
- The quality of flexible plastic packaging collected is generally very good – 90% is recyclable and there is only 10% contamination
The Flexible Plastic Fund (FPF) FlexCollect project is now halfway through and has released an interim report authored by project delivery managers SUEZ recycling and recovery UK. The report showcases the early findings from the seven local authorities currently running pilots covering nearly 30,000 households from across the UK.
This report provides encouraging insights at this half-way stage which will help local authorities, packaging producers, the plastic industry, policy makers and the waste and resource management industry prepare for UK-wide collections in just over three years.
In March 2027, kerbside collection of flexible plastic packaging for recycling will be mandatory in England under revised EPR regulations and the Simpler Recycling reforms, and similar proposals have been made for the Devolved Administrations.
The Flexible Plastic Fund (FPF) FlexCollect project was set up in May 2022 to understand how best to collect and recycle flexible plastic packaging and to trial kerbside collections across nine different waste collection authorities over three years.
This £3m project has been the main focus for the Flexible Plastic Fund (FPF) which is the majority funder, with other funding for the project coming from Defra, UK Research & Innovation’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) Challenge delivered by Innovate UK and Zero Waste Scotland. The FPF is funded and supported by the following UK organisations: Abel & Cole, Ella’s Kitchen, Kiddylicious, Koninklijke Douwe Egberts, KP Snacks, Lotus Bakeries, Mars UK, McCain Foods, Mondelēz International, Natural Balance Foods, Nestlé, Ocado Retail, PepsiCo, pladis, The Collective, Unilever, and Vitaflo.
Across all pilots, flexible plastic packaging collections have been added successfully into existing collection services. Whilst flexible plastic packaging is voluminous, the collection bags supplied to householders contain the material, keep it clean and withstand significant compaction. Furthermore, collection vehicles have enough capacity for the flexible plastic alongside the other recyclable materials they already collect.
Householder surveys carried out in some of the pilot areas have found that the service is popular with householders. The average weight presented per collection bag per household across all pilots is 291g. Participation monitoring indicates 60% of households participate regularly and the data collected so far suggests participation is higher for weekly collections (64%) than fortnightly collections (47%). Levels of satisfaction amongst participating households exceed 89% and are as high as 96%.
The coloured collection bags supplied to householders have proved effective, promoting the collection of quality material and aiding separation of collected flexible plastics from other recyclable materials. Further data is required to determine how effective and efficient this system is on a larger scale.
The householder surveys and operational data gathered indicate that effective communications when combined with the provision of collection bags support good long-term participation and performance levels.
Based on data from five compositional analyses, the quality of materials collected is good – 90% is recyclable. Collected material is largely target flexible plastic packaging (82%) which is predominantly clean. Another 6% comprises the collection bags, 2% is non-target recyclables and the remaining 10% is non-target non-recyclable materials.
The detailed polymer composition of the 82% target material collected is:
- 69% mono polyethylene (PE) & polypropylene (PP) (45% and 24% respectively)
- 11% metalised packaging (crisp packets etc.)
- 2% all other flexibles including laminates
The FPF FlexCollect project is co-managed by a consortium comprising the project funders, Ecosurety, RECOUP, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK and WRAP.
Gareth Morton, Discovery Manager at Ecosurety and FPF representative commented: “These initial results are really positive and an encouraging proof of concept for further rollout and expansion of capacity.”
“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.”
Thomas Merry, Commercialisation and Innovations Manager at SUEZ recycling and recovery UK commented “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.”
Paul Davidson, Director of UKRI’s SSPP Challenge, said: “One of the most encouraging messages coming out of the FlexCollect project so far is that householders want to be able to recycle their films and flexibles and are willing to do it well when provided with the opportunity.”
“The local authorities taking part are also playing a critical role in informing how these important materials can be included effectively and cost efficiently in kerbside collection services in the future.”
Join one of the webinars
The FPF FlexCollect project team is organising a series of webinars for the key stakeholders of flexible plastic recycling.
Speakers from Ecosurety, SUEZ, RECOUP and WRAP will present the key findings from the interim report and explore operational findings and compositional analysis of collected materials, to insight into household participation and reprocessing trials.
The sessions will also cover the next steps for the project and will give participants time to ask any questions at the end.
- 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
Webinar places can be booked here: FPF FlexCollect Interim Report — Flexible Plastic Fund