Glass recycling targets ‘impossible’

glass bottles Q3 data

The delayed quarterly reprocessing data for packaging in the third quarter of 2012 was published on the Environment Agency’s (EA’s) National Packaging Waste Database website on Tuesday night (23 October).

The figures, which were expected to be published on 22 but were delayed in order to ‘provide Defra with further time to review the figures’ (according to the EA), show that despite industry hopes, just 350,000 tonnes of glass packaging was reprocessed or exported in the third quarter.

For a third quarter running, glass packaging has been under target, with this year’s average quarterly tonnage coming in at 360,000 tonnes.

If the 2012 recycling obligation of 1.7 million tonnes is to be achieved, the glass industry now needs to almost double their quarterly average in order to reach 565,000 tonnes by the end of the year.

Industry representatives are now calling on government to rethink the obligations, which many have been saying are ‘impossible’ to reach.

PRN Fraud

Writing about the newly released data on the 360 Environmental website, Director Phil Conran said: ‘As feared, it has shown a similar level of glass recycling to Q2 and has now left the compliance industry with the impossible task of finding 565k tonnes of glass PRNs for Q4. 

‘The huge fall in aggregates use raised concerns that the underlying position might have been significantly undermined by PRN fraud although there was hope that there might have been stockpiles waiting for higher PRN prices to enable it to be used by the aggregates industry.

‘These latest figures suggest that the current levels are much more reflective of the real position than the levels in 2011. Whatever the reason for this, it will now make things extremely difficult for Defra as the targets are predicated on much higher assumed levels of recycling and there simply will not be enough for some compliance schemes to meet their targets. This will be the first year this has happened since the system started in 1998.’

Earlier this year, Nationwide Recycling Ltd was found guilty of PRN fraud in a case brought to court by the EA. According to the agency, the company made approximately £2 million through a combination of fraudulent practices, including using weights at weighbridges to receive PRNs for recycled material that did not exist. Sentencing will not be given out until March 2013.

There are now concerns that widespread fraud may have skewed the targets in the past, and with the EA’s crackdown on environmental and waste crime, the targets are becoming increasingly unrealistic.

Enforcement action

An EA spokesman said: “The Environment Agency regulate the system but we have no power to influence the price or the volumes of waste packaging being collected. It is up to the market to resolve fluctuations. In a system based on producer responsibility we expect schemes to comply. We will continue to collate figures on reprocessing and regularly update Defra.”

Defra has responded to rumours that companies may not buy glass PRNs for the next quarter (as the target appears seemingly unachievable), saying that companies caught not complying will be punished.

A spokesperson said: “We expect producers to make every effort to comply with their packaging recycling and recovery obligations. The agencies will take appropriate enforcement action against those who do not comply. We will continue to monitor the situation.”

According to the packaging waste data, steel has also come under pressure as just 77,000 tonnes were recovered in Q3, pushing the Q4 target up to 90,000 in order to be compliant.

Plastic targets for Q3 showed improvement from the first two quarters, and this sector is expected to meet targets by the end of the year.