UK on course to meet 2017 packaging recycling targets

The UK is currently on course to meet recycling obligations for all key packaging materials, according to the latest figures published on the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD), though the potential Chinese ban on some imports could see more price volatility on the horizon.

The data, which shows the amount of recycling of key packaging materials throughout quarters one and two (Q1 and Q2) of 2017, show that each has completed over 50 per cent of its recycling target.

UK on course to meet 2017 packaging recycling targetsIndividual targets for each material have been set this year at:

  • Glass – 77 per cent;
  • Plastic – 51 per cent;
  • Aluminium – 55 per cent;
  • Steel – 76 per cent;
  • Paper – 69.5 per cent; and
  • Wood – 22 per cent.

The NPWD’s Interim Recovery and Recycling reports show summary reprocessor and exporter data for a given quarter and they show that so far this year some 1.8 million tonnes of paper has been recycled, fulfilling around 73 per cent of the required 2.5 million tonnes, while 94 per cent of the required wood (213,578 tonnes) has been recycled already.

While all are over 50 per cent of the way towards targets, glass (52 per cent) and plastic (54 per cent) have made the least progress towards the targets.

UK on course to meet 2017 packaging recycling targets

Analysing the figures, compliance scheme Ecosurety says that plastic has been ‘a cause for concern all year’, noting that the price for the material has risen throughout the first two quarters of the year, but that this increased price had ‘driven’ the levels of recycling required to get it over halfway to its target of 51 per cent this year.

Ecosurety says that the figures showing good progress towards all targets could alleviate pressure on the packaging recovery note (PRN) market, which it says could be particularly important for the plastic price given speculation surrounding the future of the material’s treatment after the Chinese Government submitted plans to ban imports of scrap plastics and unsorted waste paper. Although the ban has not been finalised, this could have a major impact on the cost of compliance for producers in 2018.

Ecosurety’s analysis states: ‘In the short term, plastic prices are likely to remain volatile in Q3. Even with good figures, the China announcement is likely to continue price volatility as UK exporters plan to drive recycling elsewhere for next year. However, it could be argued that the deadline of 2018 could see plastic exporters move all remaining tonnage through China before the doors close.’ 

Though plastics faces the most stress in the coming year, Ecosurety suggests that paper and wood prices could also see difficult periods. ‘If China bans all imports of waste paper then we could see a reduction in the amount of paper PRNs generated, which could have a knock-on effect with the other materials. However, this impact is likely to be small as the UK has a well-established paper recycling market.’

Robbie Staniforth, Commercial Manager at Ecosurety commented: "There are a number of ready-to-market technologies that could be implemented in the coming months and years which would ease the reliance on China. We will be working closely with our partners to ensure that the work to date to improve recycling rates does not stall. Ultimately, we support the improvement of material quality whether it’s reprocessed in the UK or abroad."

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