Analysis of kerbside-collected plastic films from trials in Wales

Plastic film is currently difficult to recycle in the UK. In 2021, WRAP Cymru undertook a 12-week trial targeting post-consumer plastic films to understand the viability, costs, and impact of offering households a kerbside film collection.

The trial included 23,000 households from across Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil. Collected material was sent to UK plastic recycler Jayplas Ltd, where it was processed to be used in new plastic products.

Plastic film recycling was offered to residents as a weekly collection. Residents were given a leaflet outlining which plastic films were accepted and were provided with a roll of clear plastic bags to fill with separated, target plastic films.

Resource Futures was commissioned to conduct a waste composition analysis of the plastic film collected during the trial.


The aim of the composition analysis was to gauge how well residents understood what materials could be included, and if this varied over the trial period. Further aims were to understand the level of contamination and makeup of the plastic films to help refine communications around possible future plastic film kerbside collections across Wales.


Samples of the separately collected plastic film were provided by the councils and all collected waste was analysed and categorised.

Firstly, the more common mono film materials were separated based on packaging application and the visual appearance of films, including knowledge of common product and brand applications. Two categories were outlined for Mono PE – mono PE clear and mono PE coloured – which was defined as heavily coloured/dyed entirely and entirely/mostly opaque with very low translucency.

More complex films made up of multiple layers and types of plastic are often used for specific packaging applications. Because of their protective properties they are often used for meat tray lids, cheeses, certain dry foods and some frozen foods. These were separated using product, application and brand knowledge.

A Near Infrared (NIR) handheld analyser was used to further support categorisation. The device has a library of known plastic polymer types, and each polymer and combination produces its own distinct ‘signature’ which identifies it to be one plastic or another. The library was developed by Resource Futures to identify both plastic films and common plastic films made up of multiple layers. This technology was used to support the distinction between twin and multilayer or more complex plastic films.


The analysis of the trial showed positive results for the quality of plastic film when it is collected separately.

Most of the film (86.2%) was targeted (accepted) material. Non-targeted material included: 2% contaminated plastic film (e.g., heavily soiled with food weighing more than the film itself), 2.2% metallised film (e.g., crisp packets and confectionery wrappers), and 1.9% lidding film, as well as other recycling or residual waste.

Participating households made effective use of the plastic film collection service and produced 0.58 kg/hh/wk of plastic film for recycling, with an average set out rate of 18.1%. In total 20 tonnes of materials were collected over the trial.

According to WRAP calculations, if scaled, the findings indicated an increase of up to 0.89% in national recycling rates through kerbside film collections, and carbon equivalent emissions savings of 10,700 tonnes CO2e compared to treatment by EfW.

It is likely those participating in the trial are the most committed recyclers. If the separate film collection were to be extended, it is difficult to predict how fully the system would be used. A better understanding of the barriers this material presents for households would support the development of successful communications and engagement work, helping to boost participation in future trials.


Approximately 52 local authorities currently collect some form of flexible plastics for recycling at the kerbside in the UK – but which plastic films are accepted, and how, is inconsistent. The UK Government recently announced ‘Simpler Recycling’, stating plastic film packaging, plastic bags, and metallised plastic film will shortly be included in the scope of materials which must be collected from households for recycling by all English councils from March 2027.

Meanwhile, the Welsh Government’s circular economy strategy, ‘Beyond Recycling’ also includes the future incorporation of collecting film to further increased household recycling rates. Such commitments should improve existing plastic film collections which are currently often restricted to drop-off points at supermarkets in the UK.

Film collections are in their infancy in the UK. Findings from this study and composition analysis help build an evidence base to understand how separately collected plastic film services will be used by residents.

The most effective and efficient manner of collecting all streams of plastic films to optimise quality and recovery is unknown and requires further research. Resource Futures is well placed to support other local authorities and stakeholders in gathering evidence of the impact of service changes.

Project Information

Services involved

Waste Composition Analysis

Team involved

Peter Wills
Evidence Lead / Principal Consultant

Polly Whight