UK in danger of failing on new plastic recycling targets

The waste sector must have "sensible policy and strategic development" if the UK is serious about achieving the new and ambitious five-year recycling targets for plastic packaging from 2013 to 2017.

Unless urgent action is taken, the nation will struggle to meet these targets and could be left with a legacy of poor quality material, which will affect the whole industry, leading plastics recycling association Recoup has warned.

The charity raised its concerns about the UK’s ability to achieve the new targets last week (9 May) when it released the findings from the 2012 UK Household Plastics Collection Survey.

Sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, Nampak Plastics and Wellman Recycling (Indorama Ventures) the survey considered potential future collection rates, including an analysis on the new five-year recycling targets.

“It is clear significant changes will be necessary if the UK is serious about achieving the new and ambitious five-year recycling targets for plastics packaging from 2013 to 2017,” warned Recoup’s technical manager Steve Morgan.

“These include a 5% yearly growth in plastics packaging recycling targets for businesses obligated under the UK packaging regulations, going from 32% in 2012 to 57% in 2017.”

Focussing on the volumes collected from households, Morgan said that there were many possible scenarios about what might be collected in 2017.

However, he pointed to the survey report and added that plastics packaging collected from households might need to double – rising from 426, 591 tonnes in 2011 to 828,297 tonnes in 2017.

Covering all UK local authorities, the 2012 survey revealed that kerbside collections, supplemented by bring schemes, are now the predominant method for collecting plastics packaging in the UK – 70% of the 610,000 tonnes recycled came from household recycling.

The survey data shows that councils are steadily improving recycling levels. One of the key findings was that the recycling rate for plastic bottles has reached 52%; the first time the collection rate has passed the 50% barrier.

In another encouraging move, the recycling rate for pots, tubs and trays had reached 20%; a 58% increase from the previous year.

An increasing number of local authorities have also introduced collection schemes for plastic films with 70 councils (17%) offering a collection service.

On a less positive note, the findings also emphasise the missed commercial opportunity of not recycling more plastic and the cost to the taxpayer.

The survey estimates that the 48% of plastic bottles that were not collected for recycling cost over £24m to dispose of. The value of these plastic bottles to reprocessors was estimated to be £63.7m.

Morgan said sensible policy and strategic development was vital to meet the new targets.This would need to cover everything from collection, sorting and reprocessing equipment and technologies to changes in legislation, and developing practical initiatives such as a national plastics recycling communications initiative.

Recoup will be launching the 2013 survey in September at its annual general meeting and conference.

Nick Warburton

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