Sustainability

BPF calls for PRN reform to boost UK recycling

The British Plastics Federation (BPF), a trade association for the UK plastics industry, has released a report aimed at encouraging and promoting the incentivisation of the use of recycled plastics in the UK.

According to BPF’s proposal ‘To encourage and incentivise the use of recycled plastics in UK manufacturing’, recycling rates for plastic packaging in the UK are ‘among the best in the world’, but this is largely due to the fact that many companies export plastic waste for recycling.

As plastic recycling rates are set to increase to 57 per cent by 2017 (from 32 per cent in 2012), there have been increasing calls that unless drastic action is taken, this target would be ‘unachievable’.

In a bid to increase UK recycling, BPF is now calling on government to create incentives to drive investment in recycling and UK manufacturing in the hopes of increasing usage of recycled polymers. 

Increased Exports

The BPF proposal reads: ‘[D]espite the success of recycling of certain waste streams such as plastic bottles, the reality is that the packaging recycling targets to date have largely been achieved by the export of plastic waste, in particular to Asia’.

The document further suggests that domestic recycling has ‘little better than flatlined in recent years’, citing WRAP data which estimates that 684,000 tonnes of recovered plastic were exported to China in the equivalent of approximately 100 containers leaving the UK every day.

Further, BPF argues that the current Packaging Recovery Notes (PRN) and Packaging Exports Recovery Notes (PERN) systems offer commercial incentives that favour exporting plastic over UK reprocessing and recycling.

Referring to China’s recent implementation of a ‘green fence’ to crackdown on poor quality waste being imported to the country, and the fact that China has itself set targets to recycling 75 per cent of plastic by 2017, BPF argues that the Chinese market, ‘which has played such a major part in increasing the government’s plastics packaging figures and in fuelling its ambition for much higher growth’ will ‘have so much of their own waste to recycle they will hardly want ours’.

‘The consequence is that markets for certain types of plastic waste in China have evaporated’, it continues.

BPF adds that the UK’s ‘over-reliance’ on exportation of such resources to the Asian market highlights ‘the scale of the missed opportunities’ for domestic recyclers and the UK’s plastics manufacturing industry, and has led to ‘a lowering of quality of sorted and separated material waste streams’.

However, it adds that it hopes the MRF Code of Conduct and ‘effective management of the Trans Frontier Shipments (TFS) regulations by the EA will help ensure that the quality of sorted waste for recycling will improve dramatically and prevent the export of illegal waste exports which only serves to undermine consumer confidence in recycling’.

Recommendations

Finding that ‘recycling can only happen when there are markets for the recycled materials’, BPF recommends that the government changes tack from concentrating on the 'push' factors (the 'incentivisation of the collection of waste') to 'pull' factors – ‘the further development of existing markets and the creation of new applications and uses for recycled plastics’.

The BPF therefore believes it is ‘necessary to create additional incentives to drive investment in recycling and in UK manufacturing to increase usage of recycled polymers’.

To do this, BPF recommends that the government adopts the principle of ‘offset’ against obligation under the concept of producer responsibility in the waste sectors covered by EU Directives for packaging, waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) and end-of-life vehicles (ELV).

Under this proposal, organisations would be able to offset their PRN obligation by ‘using and specifying recycled polymers’.

The report concludes: ‘In this way, we would propose that unlike virgin polymers, recycled polymers would not carry any obligation under the EU Packaging Directive. This mechanism would be both relatively simple to administer and cost neutral for the UK Government and would serve to further drive the use of recycled plastics in a sector where there is already a proven pathway. In addition, this would also provide the route map for sectors such as WEEE and ELV, where UK recycling is not so mature.’

BPF has also called for separate PRN and PERN targets to encourage domestic recycling.

Speaking to Resource in issue 68, Malcolm Odlin, Purchasing Manager for technical plastics reprocessor Luxus, welcomed this proposal, saying: “We support the British Plastics Federation in its call for separate targets for PRN and PERN, as this would place the focus on the manufacture of high-quality products from recycled materials, rather than on ‘quantity’ as it is now.”

Read BPF’s proposal ‘To encourage and incentivise the use of recycled plastics in UK manufacturing’.