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Sustainable Packaging 2020

A flexible approach to tackling plastic pollution

Marcus Gover


One of the biggest challenges we face in tackling plastic pollution is soft, flexible plastics, like bags and wrapping. These plastics are lightweight and water-tight and an efficient packaging solution for many products. But the biggest challenge lies in recycling them.  

Flexible plastics constitute a quarter of all UK consumer plastic packaging by weight, but less than 5% is recycled. The issues are complex but can be overcome.

Few local authorities collect it and, while this will change over time, supermarkets are increasingly accepting these plastics for recycling. Co-op recently announced it is rolling out collection points for all types of bags and wrapping across its stores in the southeast.

There is no point in collecting this plastic if it is not recycled.

But there is no point in collecting this plastic if it is not recycled – manufacturing it into a new item is the whole point of recycling. That is why we are working with businesses through The UK Plastics Pact on a target for recycled content, and a new tax will be applied to plastic packaging that does not have at least 30% recycled content. We are also working with businesses to redesign packaging using plastics which are more easily recycled.

WRAP’s starting point will always be to identify where unnecessary plastic packaging can be removed – take plastic shrink wrap around food cans, for example. Earlier this year we saw Tesco take the bold step in removing it. If they can do it, others should follow.

But we have long known that it does not make sense for the environment to remove all plastic packaging. Where it serves an important purpose, such as preserving food, it is imperative that we retain it.

Food waste is one of the biggest environmental challenges we face – causing climate change, biodiversity loss and hunger. Switching to another material is no silver bullet either. All packaging has an environmental impact. We need to use as little as possible but as much as necessary.  

We all have a responsibility to put a stop to plastic polluting our environment. All of us can do more – remembering to take our reusable bags shopping, and recycling flexible plastics in supermarkets. 

Visit for more on where you can recycle these plastics – and look out for Recycle Week later this month. 

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