The Future of Food Packaging Recycling in the UK

With everyone trying to do their bit to protect the planet there needs to be a reliable, recycling infrastructure that will support our will to do so. Many households now have access to kerbside collection but there are still challenges when it comes to collecting flexible films and it involves educating consumers on what is recyclable as well as proactively recycling plastic packaging correctly.

ffp food packaging recycling options

Led by WRAP, the UK Plastic Pact has set a target of 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable plastic packaging, and 70% to be recycled or composted by 2025. But how will these targets be met?

Although front of store collections are convenient, they’re a temporary solution to the problem. A consistent kerbside collection system is the ultimate goal we’re all aiming for; providing convenient and consistent recycling methods to our consumers. Along with developing more recycling facilities to effectively process them and businesses doing their part to provide recyclable packaging and labelling.

This blog covers our current UK waste infrastructure and ways we can support it to meet those 2025 targets.

Current UK waste infrastructure

As of 2020, 379 Local Authorities across the UK offer kerbside collection and processing of plastic package waste, yet 60% is still being exported (source: RECOUP). Although 71 of these Authorities have plans for expansion, with a growing population, kerbside collection needs to be available throughout the entire UK as well as a need for a stable, nationwide waste management to support it.

The UK waste infrastructure currently consists of:

Material Recovery Facilities (MRF)

  • These receive and separate dry recyclable packaging
  • There are 110 MRFs in the UK
  • They sort between 825,000k to 1 million tonnes from households each year

Plastic Recovery Facilities (PRF)

  • These receive plastic from MRF that needs further sorting
  • There are 7 PRFs in the UK
  • They process around 350,000 tonnes every year
  • But currently have the capacity to sort 440,000 tonnes

Chemical Recycling

  • These work alongside MRF and PRF facilities, providing another option to increase recyclable plastics
  • They turn plastic waste back into base chemicals/feedstock and extract further value from polymers
  • Meaning they have the potential of achieving a circular economy for plastic recycling
  • They can recycle mixed or contaminated plastic waste
  • The cycle can be repeated several times, meaning no plastic will be taken to landfill
  • The UK’s first chemical recycling facility is due to be in operation from 2022

These particular facilities have their own barriers and in order to improve and support their growth, businesses need to:

  • Encourage brand leaders to think about the end of life of a product, at the start of the development stage
  • Manage potential impact of export market restrictions
  • Look at technical challenges around reprocessing products – where are the shortfalls?
  • Remove barriers and consider convenience for consumers, such as kerbside collection so they can easily recycle at home.

What are the current collection streams?

Up to 28 million households within the UK now have a regular kerbside collection, where they can place clean and recyclable packaging into a bin for collection, processing and recycling. But there are still barriers such as Local Authorities varying on which products they can receive as well as certain locations, like flats or houses in rural areas, not having access to this service.

Supermarkets including the Co-Op, Tesco and Asda are just a few that offer a front of store collection; encouraging customers to return their soft plastics such as clear film, salad bags and crisp packets. These can be collected, cleaned and reused into packaging or other products.

Although both options are beneficial they still have their own restrictions. Each area has a different schedule and requirement for kerbside collection which can be confusing for households. The RECOUP 2021 Survey states that in 2020, only 66% of Authorities communicated with their residences about how to reduce contamination within recyclable products and new services. Highlighting the need for clearer guidance to optimise recycling facilities.

What materials can be collected via kerbside or front of store collection?

From 2020, Local Authorities offer kerbside collection for:

0
%
of plastic bottles
0
%
of plastic pots, tubs and trays
0
%
of plastic film
0
%
of non-packaging bottles

Supermarkets offer front of store collection for recyclable soft plastics including:

  • Clear film used on meat and fish
  • Salad bags
  • Sweet wrappers
  • Crisp and popcorn packets
  • Fruit and veg bags
  • Bread bags

Labelling guidelines (OPRL) and what materials can utilise these labels

On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) are delivering a simple, consistent message about UK-wide recycling. Now a recognised UN Environment Programme, their ‘Recycle’ and ‘Don’t Recycle’ labels can be used across multiple products, providing concise and clear instructions for consumers and councils.

These label options communicate effectively to consumers, and help protect the quality of our recycling streams. There are label options for each packaging component however, in some cases, for example, FFP’s recyclable lidding film, one label can be used for the tray and lid combination. This is because FFP’s recyclable lidding film (either PET or PP) is welded to a tray of the same material, effectively becoming a mono-material pack that can’t be easily separated by the consumer. OPRL would consider this to be one piece of packaging. Therefore, the whole pack can be labelled ‘Recycle’ and collected at kerbside.

Mono-material PP and PE where the metallised layer is no more than 0.1 micron, can be collected by front of store services. By brands including the correct labelling on their packaging, consumers are able to recycle these products correctly.

What are the updates to flexible plastic guidance?

Here at FFP, we’re doing our part too. As members of OPRL, WRAP, RECOUP and the BPF we are very much engaged with all stakeholders and understand the challenges that the industry faces in developing sustainable packaging. We have bought to market solutions that can be recycled now through current waste streams and are aligned with OPRL on label messaging, creating clear, consistent and convenient communication to our customers.

The Plastic Packaging Tax

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

Considerations for businesses when developing their packaging

As we mentioned before, businesses need to consider the end of a product’s life at the development stage and try to find suitable materials that offer the required functionality but can be recycled through existing streams or look at lightweighting options to reduce packaging weight. Until kerbside collection becomes more widely available for flexible packaging, they should be using packaging that can be collected via front of store but with a successful kerbside collection being the key focus to achieving the UK’s recycling targets.

Improvements that can be made to existing packaging to improve sustainability

Businesses can review their current packaging options and look for alternatives that are practical, convenient and recyclable, such as:

Lightweight mono-material rather than complex laminates

Lighter options mean they’re made with less plastic and also offer benefits when moving through the supply chain. Mono-materials are more readily accepted for recycling than complex laminates.

FFP’s recyclable lidding film

Available in either PET or PP and designed to be used with a tray of the same material to produce a mono-material, lightweight, resealable pack that has been classified as ‘Recycle’ by OPRL and can be collected in its entirety via kerbside collection.

Resealable pouches

These can often replace heavier packaging solutions that have numerous packaging elements, such as a tray with lidding film and a cardboard sleeve. By switching to a pouch where feasible, packaging weight is reduced and large volumes of plastic can be removed from the supply chain. FFP can offer mono material recyclable pouches with high barrier options.

Innovation and food packaging recycling

Here at FFP, we’re committed to developing sustainable flexible packaging solutions. Our experts have a wealth of knowledge to create packaging solutions that can be collected now utilising existing waste streams without compromising on the functionality of the pack. We have created products including:

Versatile mono material laminates available in reel form, pre-made pouches and bags or sachets.

Recycled by returning to store with carrier bags.

All PE - 100% Recyclable

RECYCLABLE
HIGH PRINT QUALITY
PERFORMS WELL ON PACKING LINES
HIGH BARRIER OPTIONS
MANUFACTURED IN THE UK

The original recyclable lidding film that allows consumers to recycle with confidence through their kerbside collection.

Classified as ‘Recycle’ by OPRL.

Lidding Film - 100% Recyclable

Lightweight solution
Resealable
Packaging reduction
Recyclable at kerbside
MANUFACTURED IN THE UK

A one side coated paper packaging solution that can be heat or cold sealed and is available in a range of formats.

Collected via the paper recycling stream.

Paper - 100% Recyclable

RECYCLABLE
HIGH PRINT QUALITY
PERFORMS WELL ON PACKING LINES
HIGH BARRIER OPTIONS
MANUFACTURED IN THE UK

FFP’s Sustainability Events

FFP has hosted several successful Sustainability Days, where businesses and key speakers from the industry meet to discuss topical issues and share ideas. Our next event is due to take place in September 2022, if you’d like to join us, please complete the form on our sustainability page to be kept updated.

find out more

The next steps

We’ve pulled together an overview of the current UK food packaging recycling framework, highlighting the successes but also the barriers that are currently preventing us from being truly sustainable. If you want to start making changes to your own plastic packaging and swap for more sustainable options, get in touch and we will help you to find the best solution that’ll benefit your business, your consumers and our planet.