Embarking on a mission to create a waste-free world, Unilever is committed to ensuring that its entire packaging portfolio 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,” explained Unilever.
Understanding Flexible Plastic
In basic terms, plastic that is soft, flexible or can be scrunched is a type of flexible plastic. When it can be reused, Unilever added that plastics can be a valuable material.
“For some of our products flexible plastics offer the best choice to ensure we maintain their safety and quality. As the material is lightweight, it generally has a lower carbon footprint compared to many alternatives, and it plays an important role in minimising food waste, so can be the best choice for the planet too.”
The Challenges When Using Flexible Plastic
- Companies want to keep plastic in use for as long as possible, with a circular economy approach (collecting, processing and repeatedly reusing)
- Flexible plastic has been a challenge to recycle in the past, its unique properties result in clogged up machinery
Currently, only 16% of councils in the UK collect flexible plastics, which means that they typically end up in general household waste. Unilever reports that in 2019, flexible plastics represented 22% of all UK consumer plastic packaging, however, 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,” commented Unilever.
The Flexible Plastic Fund
Alongside Mars UK, Mondelēz International, Nestlé and PepsiCo, Unilever has launched The Flexible Plastic Fund, a new £1mn fund to boost the recycling of flexible plastics in the UK. Led by Ecosurety and supported by Hubbub, the new fund is an industry first for the UK.
The fund aims to improve flexible plastic recycling and reduce plastic pollution, by creating more value.
- The fund will guarantee a minimum price per tonne of flexible plastic that is properly recycled, ready to be re-used in new products.
- The fund will incentivise investments in jobs and infrastructure to create a circular model for flexible plastic recycling.
- The fund will help keep flexible plastic out of the environment.
Both Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have launched in-store flexible plastic collection points in select stores in the UK, increasing the convenience for customers to recycle their flexible plastic.
“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,” concluded Unilever.