Plastic film packaging

Plastic film can be made with different polymers, each with unique properties, that make it ideal for certain applications, such as packaging, carrier bags, labels, building construction, agriculture and landscaping.

The main types of polymers used to manufacture films are polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP). Plastic films can be clear or coloured, printed or plain, single or multi-layered, and these variations influence its recyclability. 

It is estimated that some 1.2 million tonnes of plastic film from packaging arises in the UK waste stream every year. Of this, around two thirds are post-consumer (i.e. from household) and one third from commercial, industrial and agricultural sources. 

The collection, separation and reprocessing of household plastic film is not widely implemented in the UK; as a consequence end markets for the recycled material is limited. In 2011/12 13% of local authorities provided kerbside collections of films (in addition to those collecting carrier bags only). Alternative collection of plastic films, including carrier bags and some polyethylene packaging, is also available and provided by most retailers, at front of store collection points.

There are other types of flexible plastics like laminated pouches and bags, that are not currently recycled in the UK. They are used for the packaging of consumer goods such as food, drink and pet foods. Degradable and biodegradable plastics are also becoming common and are being applied as a substitute to fossil-based plastics, for packaging and other applications.