Significant ‘shake-up’ predicted for plastics recycling market

The plastics recycling market could be heading for a major shake-up over the next few years, as legislative drivers start to dictate demand for a wider variety of reprocessing solutions.

According to a report from AMA Research, problems with recycling mixed plastics means that the market is dominated by six common polymer types, many of which are used in packaging.

However, changes in government policy are likely to produce significant changes in the product mix over the next few years, despite investment in recycling plant currently only financially viable for the more commonly occurring products.

The study points to a complex market structure, with recycling of post-use plastic involving collection, sorting, reprocessing and incorporation of recycled polymer into new products. Some companies focus on only one area of activity, while other, often larger, players are active in several.

The benefits of reusing industrial process waste in-house, combined with the requirement for producers in some sectors to meet recycling targets, have encouraged some plastics manufacturers to run a recycling operation, commonly incorporating recycled plastic into a proportion of their own products.

Currently, the domestic sector represents the largest source of post-use plastic waste. While the number of local authorities operating collection schemes has increased in recent years, recovery of plastic from the commercial and industrial sectors is likely to rise as more legislation kicks in.

According to the British Plastics Federation, UK industry consumes around 4.8m tonnes of polymers a year and produces around 2.5m tonnes of end product, the largest area of demand being packaging.

It is estimated that around 2m tonnes of plastic packaging is used in the UK, but this figure is higher when including the packaging used with imported goods. After packaging, the second largest area of demand for polymers is that of construction products, accounting for around 22% of UK polymer supply.

Electrical equipment, housewares, agricultural products and vehicle manufacture account for around 30% of demand between them. The remaining 12% of demand is split between medical equipment, toys and sporting goods, clothing and other.

In the UK, it has been estimated that plastic waste arisings have been growing by around 2% a year, reaching around 4.5 million tonnes in 2010. There are some 50 groups of plastics, with hundreds of different varieties, all of which are potentially recyclable.

Maxine Perella

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