Monitoring householder participation in the FPF FlexCollect project

The FPF FlexCollect project team commissioned Resource Futures to carry out participation monitoring in three areas where new flexible plastic collections are being trialled under the pioneering FPF FlexCollect programme.

The FPF FlexCollect project is trialling new kerbside collections for flexible plastics and nine collection pilots are planned in different areas between 2022-2025.

It’s funded by the Flexible Plastics Fund (FPF)*, Defra, UK Research & Innovation’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge (delivered by Innovate UK) and Zero Waste Scotland, and delivered by a team comprising Ecosurety, RECOUP, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK and WRAP.

SUEZ provided a sample of households in the three trial areas of Maldon, South Gloucestershire and Somerset. In all trial areas, residents are provided with a roll of plastic bags to fill with targeted flexible plastics and asked to present these with their other recycling on the allocated collection day.

Objectives

The aim was to measure the success of the trial in terms of how many households were participating in the service to inform future expansions into new trial areas, as well as to provide a wider performance benchmark for similar services.

Additionally, we sought to gather information on whether flexible plastics remained as a contaminant in other recycling containers where the new flexible collections were introduced.

Approach

Resource Futures appointed a fieldwork team who worked alongside local SUEZ crews, gathering information on participation in the new flexible plastics collection: who was putting out bags; how many bags were presented; and how full the bags were. Each household was monitored over three consecutive collections.

To gather details on contamination, fieldworkers looked for flexible plastics inside other recycling containers and marked the household as contaminating if any evidence was found. This assessment wasn’t possible in Maldon as recycling here is presented in a sealed container, preventing easy visual assessment.

Outcomes

The data gathered informed the key measures of weekly set-out and overall participation rates.

Our research indicated that residents in all three areas were demonstrating encouraging levels of participation in the FlexCollect trial: 68% in South Gloucestershire, 64% in Somerset and 47% in Maldon.

Having recently carried out food recycling participation monitoring in the same three areas, we were able to use this as a benchmark to assess engagement success with the FlexCollect service. The comparison showed a close profile match for both streams in each area, indicating that flexible plastic recycling is already falling in line with other recycling collections.

The contamination assessment showed that, even where flexible plastics were being presented for collection, a number of households were still contaminating their other recycling with flexibles, suggesting there is confusion about different plastic types and what to do with them. Participating households typically presented one bag or less per week and bags were mostly observed as being over 50% full.

“We were pleased to partner with Resource Futures to gather key insights into household participation in the FlexCollect trial. The results are really promising, revealing households across all three monitored pilot authorities have embraced the service with strong participation.

“These rich data insights from Resource Futures, including the impact of the different service types and number of bags being presented by participating households, have been invaluable in helping us to plan for future project expansions.”

Oliver Morrall, SUEZ Project Delivery Manager for the FPF FlexCollect project

Impact

Aside from the FlexCollect trials, there are currently only around 50 local authorities collecting flexible plastics for recycling at the kerbside in the UK. In 2020, RECOUP reported that the UK produced 309,000 tonnes of flexible plastic packaging, but only 8% of this was collected for recycling. There remains much opportunity to extend the capture of this untapped resource and retain its value through disposal diversion.

In recognition of this, the UK Government recently announced its plans for ‘Simpler Recycling’, which states that plastic film packaging, plastic bags, and metallised plastic film must be collected for recycling by all English councils from March 2027. The Welsh Government’s ‘Beyond Recycling’ strategy also states their intention to expand kerbside collections to include plastic films.

The results of our research show that householders respond well to the introduction of this new recycling stream, and that flexible plastic collections perform at least as well as food recycling in terms of participation.

While the UK is at the beginning of a journey to national flexible plastics collections, this work validates the requirement to expand trial areas and has highlighted a range of opportunities to gather enhanced unique insights.

Greater detail about the FlexCollect pilot findings can be found in the FPF FlexCollect Interim Report.

 

* The Flexible Plastic Fund FPF is a collaborative fund established in May 2021 by five founding partners: Mars UK, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever. Partners of the Fund now include Abel & Cole, Ella’s Kitchen, Kiddylicious, Koninklijke Douwe Egberts, KP Snacks, Lotus Bakeries, McCain Foods, Natural Balance Foods, Ocado Retail, pladis, The Collective and Vitaflo.

 

Project Information

Services involved

Behaviour Change

Data and Tools

Team involved

Sarah Hargreaves
Behaviour Change Lead / Principal Consultant

Sally Scholefield
Senior Consultant / Designer

Lettie Aspey
Consultant

Sammy Moody
Consultant