RECOUP survey calls for focus on plastic film recycling

Resource management charity RECOUP UK has released its latest Households Plastics Collection Survey, which sees all local authorities review the collection of household plastics for recycling across the UK.

Plastic filmResults look into the opportunities and challenges facing local authorities and waste management providers, in line with ongoing government consultations that will affect the plastics supply chain.

The survey highlights that the UK saw a 2 per cent increase in collected household plastics, up to 560,000 tonnes in 2019.

But actual recycling rates remain stagnant, due to the failure in capturing and recycling significant quantities of plastic film and flexibles from households in areas of the UK.

Whilst the survey represented the first time all 382 UK local authorities have collected plastic bottles for recycling at the kerbside, the number of authorities collecting films and flexibles has dropped to 14 per cent.

Results estimate that there are 395,000 tonnes of plastic film used by consumers each year, with only 22,000 tonnes collected for recycling, which is a collection rate of 7 per cent.

This continues an annual decrease in the collection rate of plastic film from 16 per cent in the 2018 survey and 14 per cent in the 2019 survey.

Plastic film includes plastic carrier bags, bread and cereal bags, cling film, bubble wrap, magazine wrap and shrink wrap. 55 local authorities currently offer plastic film collection, although 23 only accept carrier bags and just 1 accepts bubble wrap.

RECOUP acknowledges there are multiple challenges surrounding recycling plastic film, including the decision-making process needed by the consumer on whether to place various types of plastic film into their recycling.

This can lead to incorrect decisions and an increase in contamination levels.

Reducing contamination appears to be the main focus when communicating with residents, according to 57 per cent of local authorities.

To combat contamination, 46 per cent of local authorities have reported that they are currently planning communications to households around plastics recycling.

RECOUP advises that the plastics value chain and the Government are looking at ways in which it can capture the recyclable potential of plastic film and have suggested the discussions around Consistent Collections from 2023 should be focused on whether plastic films and flexibles should be included.

In 2019, the UK Government committed to new waste and recycling policy measures, which involved the standardised collection of recyclable materials by 2023.

Plans currently include the collection of glass bottles, paper, card, plastic bottles, plastic trays and aluminium tins and cans.

Elsewhere, the Government has also pledged to make separate food waste collections mandatory in England by 2023, although there are ongoing concerns local authorities require more funding to reach this goal.

RECOUP’s latest survey has shown that 59 per cent of local authorities currently collect food waste separately from general waste, with 44 per cent having a dedicated food waste collection.