A £100m investment in collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure would be needed before the UK could recycle most flexible plastic packaging, a research project by plastics recycler Axion has found.
The company said some 414,000 tonnes of plastic-based flexible packaging is put on the market each year, comprising 27% of consumer plastic packaging.
Most ended up in landfills or energy recovery, with growth in recycling rates having slowed to 45.2% now after climbing sharply from 12% to 40% between 2001-10.
Axion’s head of circular economy Richard McKinlay said: “The big problem is the lack of adequate facilities designed to process these largely recyclable materials.”
A two-year research project by the company had found that 80% of post-consumer flexible packaging – either polypropylene (PP) or polyethylene (PE) – could be recycled, including those with metallised and barrier coatings. Some of the remaining 20% could also be recycled if innovative barrier and sealing materials were used.
McKinlay said the project had shown the technical feasibility of recycling on a small scale but a larger demonstration was needed.
“Moving forward, more funding of around £100m is required if we wanted to enable PP and PE film recycling from kerbside collections,” he said, suggesting that the money could come from extended producer responsibility schemes that would encourage brands to design for recycling in exchange for reduced compliance fees.
McKinlay said it would be important to create end markets for recycled polymers, such as films and injection-moulded products.