New plastics strategy aims to keep material in the UK

The British Plastics Federation Recycling Group (BPFRG) has launched a new strategy aiming to improve plastic recycling in the UK through industry-led initiatives and regulation.

The strategy makes four recommendations to encourage the development of the UK plastic recycling industry and keep material in the UK for use in the manufacturing sector, and ‘to address current issues that prevent certain materials from being recycled or businesses from being able to grow’.

Chief among the proposals is a call for reform of the Packaging Recovery Note/Packaging Export Recovery Note (PRN/PERN) system, by creating a split plastic packaging target for UK-based recycling and export.

PRN/PERN reform has long been on the wish list of many UK material reprocessors, as they feel that the system creates an uneven playing field and encourages material to be exported. PRN evidence of recycling is issued to domestic reprocessors only after material has actually been recycled, but PERN evidence is issued as soon as material is exported, meaning it might not ever undergo any reprocessing.

According to BPFRG, a split target could ensure that ‘a higher percentage of the obligated companies’ evidence would have to come from PRNs rather than PERNs’. Advantages to this, it adds, would be: retaining resources in the UK; ensuring better environmental outcomes through treating material closer to source; creating UK jobs; and driving investment for development of household plastic recycling infrastructure.

In its new strategy, BPFRG also calls for the creation of an investment fund for new technologies, which it says could be created through revenue from extended producer responsibility, landfill tax or setting a minimum price for PRNs/PERNs. It says that the fund would be particularly useful for developing recycling technologies for pots, tubs and trays, as only 30 per cent of this stream is currently recycled.

A third proposal calls for the development of standards for all grades of plastic that must be met for material to be accepted by UK reprocessors and exporters alike, with the aim of reducing contamination.

Finally, with an eye on creating ‘stable end markets’, the strategy calls for the introduction of recycled plastic procurement requirements for public bodies and large companies.

‘Keeping a valuable waste stream in the UK’

Commenting on the strategy, Chairman of the Recycling Group Roger Baynham said: “The strategy’s aim is to increase recycling activity in the UK and has been produced in consultation with senior figures in industry. By focusing on keeping a valuable waste stream in the UK, refining the feedstock available to recyclers and encouraging the move towards a commercial environment that produces plastic products that are easier to recycle in the first place, the UK plastics recycling sector will get the tools it needs to help exceed its recycling targets and move towards a more sustainable future.”

The BPFRG will also be collaborating with the Plastics Industry Recycling Action Plan (PIRAP) to help increase plastic recycling, including by examining barriers that prevent certain plastics from being recycled. Administered by the BPF and PlasticsEurope with support from the Waste & Resources Action Programme, PIRAP currently has 50 members from across the value chain including retailers and brand owners.

The Recycling Group strategy is available on the BPF’s website.