As part of our ambition to create a waste-free world, amongst other targets, we’ve committed to Making flexible plastics recyclable, ensuring that all our packaging is recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. There are plenty of technical challenges we’re tackling on our plastic journey. For packaging to be fully recyclable, not only does the material itself need to be recyclable, but the wider waste infrastructure needs to be in place so it can be collected, sorted and recycled into new products. Creating this viable circular economy has been trickier for some materials, including flexible plastic.
What is flexible plastic
If it’s plastic that is soft, flexible or crunchable, it’s flexible plastic. At Unilever we use it for our ice cream wrappers, to seal our food trays, for our laundry capsule pouches and bottle sleeves, and to wrap our products when we are moving our products around from our factories to shelves. Plastic is a valuable material when it can be re-used. For some of our products flexible plastics offer the best choice to ensure we maintain their safety and quality. As the material is light weight, it generally has a lower carbon footprint compared to many alternatives, and it plays an important role in minimizing food waste, so can be the best choice for the planet too.
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We want to keep plastic in use for as long as possible in a circular loop by collecting, processing and repeatedly reusing it by Making flexible plastics recyclable. Flexible plastic has been tricky to recycle in the past, as its unique properties mean it can get stuck in or clog up recycling machinery.
Currently, flexible plastics are not commonly collected or recycled and typically end up in general household waste – only 16% of councils currently collect this material1. In 2019, flexible plastic represented 22% of all UK consumer plastic packaging but only 6% was recycled.
To unlock the value of flexible plastic, we need to make it widely recyclable in a way that is economically viable and easy and convenient for consumers. That’s why The Flexible Plastic Fund was created.
The Flexible Plastic Fund
Alongside four of the of the UK’s other largest branded manufacturers; Mars UK, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, PepsiCo, we’ve launched The Flexible Plastic Fund, a new £1 million fund, to boost flexible plastic recycling in the UK. This is a UK industry first and is being led by producer compliance scheme, Ecosurety, with support from environmental charity, Hubbub.
The Fund’s ambition is to improve flexible plastic recycling and reduce plastic pollution by creating more value of the material. The Fund will guarantee a minimum price per tonne for all flexible plastic that is properly recycled ready to be re-used into new plastic products. By incentivising investment in jobs and the infrastructure needed to create a circular model for flexi recycling, The Fund will help flexible plastics to be kept out of the environment and instead be re-used back into products again and again.
Participating retailers, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have launched in-store flexible plastic collection points in selected outlets throughout the UK, making it convenient and easy for customers to recycle their flexible plastics by bringing them back to store. The collected plastic will then be transported to approved recyclers. To achieve our ambition of creating a long-term and sustainable solution to flexible plastic waste in the UK, we’re calling on all manufacturers, retailers and recyclers to play their role in this vital scheme too.