WRAP targets plastic packaging as priority

Plastic packaging waste was singled out as a priority area for action by WRAP at an Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group meeting in London last week (March 7).

Speaking at the industry forum held at Portcullis House, WRAP’s director for the closed loop economy Marcus Gover said that there was “a real opportunity to recycle more plastics”, which would support Defra’s recent consultation on packaging waste and proposed new recovery targets from 2013-2017.

While the UK’s recycling record on most materials is good, levels of plastic waste recycling are generally poor. Figures from Defra’s packaging consultation show that in 2010, total plastic packaging waste was 2,478,630 tonnes. Only around 25% of the total amount was recovered or recycled, with the rest sent for landfill or incineration.

This is because collecting and recycling films is difficult. Black plastics cannot be easily detected and sorted at materials recovery facilities (MRFs) and there is a scarcity in the number of high value markets for non-bottle plastics.

Gover said that local authorities could significantly boost the overall recycling rates of plastic by focusing collection schemes on plastic bottles. Only around half of the plastic bottles collected are currently reprocessed in the UK.

“If you look at plastic bottles, 50% recycling is clearly great but it still means that we’re throwing away one in two bottles, despite almost every local authority collecting them,” he said.

WRAP published new guidance in January designed to support local authorities in England and Scotland that are either planning to collect, or are currently collecting, plastic bottles at the kerbside. The guide focuses on maximising plastic bottle material quality and/or capture rates from plastic bottle-only collection services.

While an increasing number of councils have expanded the range of plastic packaging in kerbside collections to increase plastic yields, the inclusion of films and rigid plastics has caused problems for reprocessors.

“We need to watch the quality as the other plastics start to come into the waste stream collected because there is a danger of reducing the quality of bottles,” Gover told delegates.

“The collection of rigid plastics without the proper sorting facilities and proper processing is causing problems. Films are very difficult to collect. They tend to get caught around the machinery in MRFs. Really it’s about keeping those out of the kerbside collection at the moment.”

Gover revealed that WRAP would be publishing a second guide for local authorities later this month looking at mixed plastics and how best to collect this difficult waste stream.

“We are really pleased that retailers are offering in-store take-back schemes where you can recycle films with carrier bags,” he added. “That will help to collect films and will not contaminate the more recyclable other plastic streams.”

According to Gover, building more reprocessing plants for films and rigid plastics is now a real priority – he pointed to the £5m loan fund that WRAP has set up to support facilities that can process these plastic materials such as the Eco Plastics plant in Lincolnshire.

Nick Warburton

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie