Plastics recovery hit by rising contamination levels

The quality of plastic bottles sent for reprocessing in recent years has deteriorated due to the "rampant" rise of mixed plastics in the waste stream, according to an industry expert.

Eco Plastics chairman Peter Gangsted delivered a damning verdict on the state of post-consumer plastics collections in the UK as he highlighted the plight faced by reprocessors in dealing with poor feedstock levels.

His comments build on previous concerns outlined in a WRAP technical guide earlier this year, which found that the quantity of such materials were diluting the presence of PET and HDPE bottles.

Speaking at the official opening of Continuum Recycling’s £15m plastic bottle reprocessing plant in Hemswell, Lincolnshire yesterday (May 10) – a joint venture between Eco Plastics and Coca-Cola Enterprises – Gangsted said that certain materials such as black trays were contaminating input streams and presenting problems as they were virtually impossible to recycle.

Part of the problem, he pointed out, was that consumers were still confused about what materials to present in the recycling bin. He called for more education around the issue, saying that better public awareness would be crucial in underpinning future growth of plastics recycling.

With its new plant, Eco Plastics has stepped up its ambition to capture more of the plastics waste stream currently going to landfill. Despite the growth of plastic bottles recycling in recent years, Gangsted said the 400,000 tonnes currently being recovered was “still only a fraction” of the 1.8m tonnes generated in the UK each year.

“We want to see half of all post-consumer plastics resource recovered by 2020 – it’s a bold ambition given the 22% currently recycled today,” he said.

This view was shared by Eco Plastic’s partner in the joint venture, Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE). CEE’s supply chain vice president & general manager Stephen Moorhouse also lamented the UK’s poor performance on plastic bottle recovery rates.

“This year fewer than half of all plastic bottles consumed in this country will be recycled. We all want to see far higher recycling rates within Great Britain and we welcome the new packaging targets recently announced by the Government. They won’t be easy to achieve, but it will give us real focus,” he said.

Moorhouse also called for a “national on-the-go [recycling] framework” to make it easier for people to recycle when out and about

The facility at Hemswell will be capable of processing 40,000 tonnes of bottle-grade rPET pellet, which will be taken to CCE’s Wakefield site for remanufacture. This will enable the brand’s bottle distributor to deliver on one of its key pledges to use 25% rPET in all of its bottles by the end of the year.

Meanwhile Coca-Cola Company, one of the main sponsors of the London 2012 Olympic Games, announced it had struck a deal with waste contractor SITA to transport all plastic bottle waste generated during the games to the Continuum Recycling facility for recovery.

Coca-Cola’s head of sustainability for the Olympics, Katherine Symonds, added that the company expected to sell around 20m bottles of Coca-Cola throughout the course of the games.

Maxine Perella

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