Ever wondered what to do with your flexible packaging such as plastic bags, frozen food bags and crisps & confectionery wrappers? The newer confectionery wrappers looks like tinfoil but is really a plastic.
You feel guilty discarding it but are aware it is not suitable for recycling like the PET plastic materials. Well, the volume of such wrappers reaches 32% of consumer plastic packaging in the UK today and similar for Ireland. However, almost all of it ends up in landfill. By contrast almost 60% of plastic bottles are recycled.
So it’s great to see some industry collaboration to address this challenge. The two-year REFLEX project, funded by Innovate UK, and led by Manchester, England-based Axion Consulting, aims to create a circular economy for flexible packaging. The goal of the campaign is to bring the flexible plastic packaging recycling rate up to match plastic-bottle recycling rates within 10 years.
The chances of success are good for REFLEX, because by getting the whole supply chain involved with some large players the results will be rapidly implemented. Companies like Amcor, Dow Chemical Company, Interflex Group, Nestlé UK, SITA Holdings UK, Tomra Sorting and Unilever UK Central Resources will join Innovate UK and Axion in the project. Polymer producers, packaging manufacturers, waste management firms and recyclers will also be a part of the project.
We urgently need to remove the barriers preventing flexible packaging from being recycled and allow recyclers to disrupt the supply chain. We simply must create a circular economy in flexible packaging and divert it away from landfill.
REFLEX will not be an easy project. The materials used are complex, designed to meet a number of constraints such as light weight, ease of sealability , strong tear strength, good puncture resistance and low cost. So innovative recyclable flexible package designs and , maybe, new materials are required, where all the materials used can be recovered and reprocessed together. Recycling these materials is still very technically and commercially challenging.
We wish the REFLEX project early success and hope the fruits of the labour will be deployed in Ireland also.