Recycling plastic wrapping

Collections of plastic bags and wrapping to go nationwide, via a supermarket near you

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 30 May 2021

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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By the end of the year, many more of us will be able to take all types of plastic bags and wrapping into our local supermarkets to be collected for sorting and recycling, including items like salad bags, crisp packets, biscuit wrappers bread bags and frozen food bags.

Currently, while many supermarkets provide front-of-store recycling points for carrier bags and other bags made from the same plastic (polythene), there is confusion about whether flexible plastic packaging can be recycled – and if so, how to do it.

According to WRAP, plastic bags and wrapping are among the most searched terms on the charity’s Recycle Now website.

All supermarkets have signed up to The UK Plastics Pact, and new guidance issued by WRAP means many more retailers can introduce consistent collections for more types of flexible plastic packaging and help divert more from landfill or incineration.

Straightforward plastic collections

Currently, less than 20% of local authorities collect plastic bags and wrapping as part of their kerbside recycling service.

Until kerbside collections of flexible plastic packaging are rolled out widely – the timing of which is currently being consulted on by government – a significant proportion of the public say they’re happy to take these items into a supermarket for recycling.

The new guidance outlines best practice for introducing or refining existing collections.

It calls for the collection of all types of plastic bags and wrapping used for everyday items such as salad bags, crisp packets and biscuit wrappers, as well as the current commonly collected items such as carrier bags, bread bags and frozen food bags.

The guidance calls for consistency in language and ease of use.

‘I am delighted that, through the UK Plastics Pact, the proportion of the population able to recycle all types of plastic bags and wrapping at supermarkets is on the increase, and we expect that by the end of the year it will be widely available.

‘It is a critical step forwards when just 6% of plastics bags and wrapping currently get recycled – despite making up 22% of all plastic packaging by weight. Ensuring that consumers have consistent information on where to recycle plastic bags and wrappers is also critical.’

MARCUS GOVER
CEO of WRAP

Design for recycling

WRAP also highlights that design of packaging plays a critical role, which will often determine whether the material gets recycled.

As a result, businesses are being urged to move packaging into simpler ‘mono-material’ designs.

The guide also stresses that businesses play a critical role in stipulating recycled content in products and packaging wherever possible, in order to create the demand for the recycled plastic.

‘Having already recycled front-of-store collected plastic packaging, we well understand the challenges. We have proved these materials can be recycled and MOST importantly, re-manufactured into new packaging.

‘However, we can’t do this on our own, all stakeholders have an important role to play. Especially by ensuring purchasers of packaging specify front of store recyclate is included in raw material specifications.’

MIKE BAXTER
External affairs director at plastics recycler Berry Group

Collecting bags in store

Ahead of the roll-out of all types of plastic bags and wrapping being accepted more widely, many supermarkets are already accepting some types.

This includes soft stretchy plastic used for carrier bags, frozen food bags, bread bags and toilet roll wrap.

In March, Tesco announced 171 stores are collecting all types of plastic bags and wrapping across the South West of England and Wales, with plans to roll this out to all stores nationwide.

Sainsbury’s is trialling collection in the North East with full rollout expected by the end of this year. Other supermarkets are also conducting trials, including Co-op in 51 stores across the South East.

The Recycle Now website details which supermarkets offer in-store collections of flexible plastic packaging. Click here to take a look.

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