Marks & Spencer and Dow partner up on the circular economy

The UK government’s recent decision to ban the sale of all plastic straws, cotton buds and drinks stirrers by April 2020 highlighted the growing public sentiment to overhaul the waste system, cut plastic pollution, and move towards a circular economy. In light of this, the Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics (P&SP) division’s recently launched circular economy partnership with leading retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) is perfect timing.

Together, Dow P&SP and M&S have launched the ‘Plastic Take Back Scheme’, which allows members of the public to take any plastic packaging that is not currently accepted in curbside recycling to a drop-off point at M&S stores, where it will be collected for recycling by Dow partners. The scheme is part of M&S’ ambition to move towards a circular economy, where it uses less plastics and re-uses and recycles any plastic it does use. As part of this, M&S has committed to ensuring all of its packaging is widely recyclable by 2022 and has already removed 1,700 tonnes of black plastic packaging. From Dow’s perspective, the scheme is a perfect fit for the Dow 2025 Sustainability Goal to advance a circular economy. As a company with a direct stake in the future of plastic packaging, the project demonstrates to our partners and customers and the wider public that previously uncollected flexible plastics and films can now be collected and reused in a way that makes both economic and environmental sense.

Launched in January 2019, the Plastic Take Back Scheme is currently available in ten stores throughout the UK and will be rolled-out to further stores by the end of the year. Dow has brought in our partner Protomax, a company that has specialized in building Stormboards recycling machines and plants, ready to be licensed and sold to recyclers. After having been shredded and washed by one of the Protomax partners, the plastic then goes to Stormboard, an offshoot of Protomax, which mechanically recycles the waste plastic packaging into a weatherproof alternative to plywood or hoarding boards. These “Stormboards” are then used in a variety of applications ranging from furniture to hoarding boards and playground structures for schools.

The Stormboards have a lifecycle of approximately twelve years. After that point, the boards enter the next step of their journey: they will be recycled back into Stormboards or alternatively can be brought to partner Recycling Technologies, who can transform plastic waste or boards into raw material by feedstock recycling. This raw material, an oil that can replace fossil fuel, can then be used to make LDPE, enabling plastic manufacturers to use this as a feedstock, and once more create resins for plastic packaging, bringing the plastic full-cycle in the circular economy.

Sarah Perreard, Project Leader, said, “This collaboration is the first of its kind, and we’re delighted to work with M&S on this. The initial stores have been extremely successful, with local communities jumping on board to take up the opportunity to recycle their hard-to-recycle plastics, and we hope to see the programme continue to grow and expand. We would love to see the project include other retailers and brands - in order to truly make the circular economy work, we need to develop new ways of collaborating. It is also important that we use the project to educate and inform the public on how the recycled waste is used. This can only happen by making sure they are knowledgeable and aware of each step of the process within the project”.

UK NGO, Wastebuster, has also joined forces with Dow and M&S to raise public awareness of the benefits of plastic recycling, and make it easier for households to know what their local council accepts and what should go to the M&S collection points. Wastebuster will therefore be working to educate children in schools, and to develop competitions and apps to engage local communities around the circular economy.

The Dow and M&S teams are now looking to partner with further brand owners under the umbrella of EPPIC Program (The Extended Plastic Partnership for Innovation in Circularity) to join and scale the collection points nationwide, with the goal of 75% of UK citizens having access to mixed plastic bins by end of 2020.