That is the damning conclusion of new research from European trade association PlasticsEurope which has examined current progress to date on recycling and recovery of waste plastics across the EU.

Back in 2009 the sector set itself the goal of reaching zero plastics to landfill by 2020, but the report states that unless there is a greater sense of stakeholder urgency, this will only be achieved by 2037.

The UK in particular is performing badly with a total plastics recovery rate of just 27.3% – over 70% of this material is still landfilled, placing it in the bottom seven of the EU27+2 countries for diversion.

However last year 1.04m tonnes of plastic post-consumer waste was recovered in the UK, representing an increase in recycling of 9.1% and 11.7% in energy recovery compared to 2010.

While the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has introduced higher recycling targets for plastics, which are set to rise from 32% currently to 57% by 2017, the move has proved controversial.

Many industry experts believe meeting these targets will prove impossible unless there is significant investment in the logistics of collection and recycling such materials.

According to British Plastics Federation (BPF) public & industrial affairs director Philip Law, the Government’s policy is “ill thought out” and will leave companies obligated under the targets to foot the bill for recycling that can’t be delivered.

It’s a view echoed by Packaging & Films Association CEO Barry Turner: “The Government continue to say that the onus is on packaging producers to ensure that enough material is collected, but in reality it is local councils that control collection.

“The fact is that, in the absence of resource-based recycling targets, there is no incentive for councils to invest in collection services – even less so when their budgets are already stretched to the limit.”

Compounding the problem is Defra’s recent downward revisions of UK recycling capacity estimates and the absence of material-specific targets placed on local authorities.

On a brighter note, the PlasticsEurope report notes that some overall progress has been made in capturing value from plastics waste. In EU-27, 4.8% more post-consumer plastic waste was recovered compared to 2010 while the amount ending up in landfills decreased in a similar way.

According to the study, achieving the zero waste 2020 objective would prevent an estimated 80m tonnes of materials from going to landfill, representing some €78bn in cost savings.

Maxine Perella

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