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First Mile targets polybag recycling with London pilot

By Danielle Wightman-Stone

10 Mar 2020

Recycling company First Mile has partnered with sustainable fashion innovation platform Fashion for Good to tackle plastic polybag waste in the fashion industry with a new London-based pilot scheme.

The trial to tackle clothing packaging waste aims to validate a closed-loop system by testing a key part of the infrastructure in a future circular system by looking at the issue of plastic polybag waste in the fashion industry.

These plastic film bags are commonly used to pack, transport and store items of clothing, before they are displayed in-store, and it is estimated that 180 billion polybags are produced each year, while less than 15 percent of polybags in circulation are collected for recycling, according to Fashion For Good.

However, according to research, the recycling of plastic film, from which polybags are made, poses a challenge due to the wide variety of different types and colours of film ultimately ‘downgrading’ the material into lower-value products during its processing.

In contrast, the majority of fashion polybags are made from clear low-density polyethylene (LDPE) film, offering the potential of a clean and pure waste stream that can be transformed into high-quality clear film products again.

First Mile launches Polybag Collection Scheme Pilot in London

The Polybag Collection Scheme Pilot in London, is part of Fashion For Good’s Plastics Packaging Project and aims to identify and scale potential solutions to reduce the impact and use of plastic packaging in the industry, as well as test the ability to develop scalable recycling infrastructure in one key city region.

The three-month pilot scheme will be supported by Fashion for Good corporate partners Adidas, Kering, PVH Corp. and Stella McCartney, and will see First Mile collecting and recycling plastic polybags from retail stores located in central London.

These polybags will then be transformed into new plastic film products, closing the loop and dramatically reducing the amount of retail plastic waste that is simply thrown away, explained First Mile.

First Mile founder and chief executive, Bruce Bratley, said in a statement: “The spotlight has been well and truly focused on the sustainability of the fashion industry in recent months, and this is an area where recycling can make a massive difference.

“There’s an incredible amount of plastic polybag packaging waste that isn’t currently recycled and will often end up in landfill or being incinerated. As we all strive towards achieving an efficient circular economy, maximising the recycling of these polybags is a hugely positive move.”

Katrin Ley, managing director at Fashion for Good, added: “The fashion industry needs to tackle polybag packaging waste and work together to make a closed-loop system a reality. This involves the sector committing to make current polybags more recyclable, supporting innovation in recycling, but crucially, focusing on systems for the collection of polybags at all places that polybag waste is generated.”

At the end of the three-month pilot, Fashion for Good will collate and analyse data on the viability of separate polybag collection for brands, and First Mile will report on the recycling outcomes.

Images: courtesy of First Mile/Fashion For Good