Viridor to open £65m plastic recycling plant in Avonmouth

An artist's impression of the new plastics facility
An artist's impression of the new plastics facility

Resource management company Viridor is set to open the UK’s largest multi-polymer plastic recycling plant in Avonmouth, near Bristol, which will be powered by energy generated from its £252-million energy recovery facility currently under construction on the same site.

The new plastics recycling plant is expected to cost £65 million and will process 81,000 tonnes of PET, HDPE and PP plastic bottles, pots, tubs and trays in its first year of operation, rising to 89,000 tonnes in year three. This will produce 60,000 tonnes of recycled plastic in year one, rising to 63,000 tonnes in year three. A spokesperson for Viridor confirmed to Resource that any plastics deemed unrecyclable will be sent for energy recovery at the Avonmouth ‘Resource Recovery Centre’ (RRC), which is due to be completed by mid-2020.

The RRC will process 320,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste every year, coming from Viridor's local authority contracts in the region, including the Somerset Waste Partnership, and will generate around 32 megawatts of electricity. The energy produced will be used to power the plastics plant on the same site.

While specific studies have not been carried out into the environmental benefits of co-locating the two facilities, a spokesperson for Viridor said that “travel distances will be reduced significantly” and that “considerable resource and energy efficiencies” will be achieved from the sharing of heat and power. 

Viridor has described the project as a ‘world-class facility’ and an ‘early sign of Viridor’s continuing commitment to UK plastics conversion’, joining similar projects announced this year by Biffa, Coral and Recycling Technologies at a time when there are growing calls to boost domestic plastic reprocessing and reduce reliance on the export of plastic waste.

A report by the National Audit Office, published in July of last year, found that exports of plastic packaging waste had increased six times since 2002, with much of this ending up in the natural environment of the countries it was exported to. Images of the environmental damage wrought by improperly disposed plastic have led MPs to call for an end to the export of plastic waste to developing countries, while plastic waste has been added to the list of wastes subject to controls under the Basel Convention, limiting its trade.

The UK Government indicated in its Resources and Waste Strategy that it is seeking to stimulate demand for recycled plastic in the UK through increasing domestic reprocessing, with a tax on the manufacture and import of plastic packaging containing less than 30 per cent recycled plastic one of its flagship policies for doing so.

Read more: Will a tax on recycled content in plastic packaging work?

An image of a man in high vis leaning over a tray of plastic pellets
Plastic pellets that will be produced at the Avonmouth facility
Commenting on the announcement of the new plastics recycling facility, Chris Loughlin, CEO of Viridor’s parent company Pennon, said: “Pennon is dedicated to working in ever more sustainable ways and we are extremely excited to be announcing this first-of-its-kind investment in plastics recycling. By using waste which cannot be recycled as the fuel to create low carbon electricity which will power plastics recycling, we are creating a truly resource and energy-efficient waste management solution.

“There is a clear ambition from both UK consumers and politicians to improve recycling rates and reduce the amount of waste which is sent to export. Our research shows that 80 per cent of people believe the UK should find a way to deal with its own recycling without having to ship it to other countries.

“Unless action is taken now and investment in infrastructure is made, a plastic recycling capacity gap will undermine UK ambitions and the sustainability targets of retailers and the big consumer brands. We are, therefore, delighted to be leading the way.”

The co-location of the plastics recycling facility and the Avonmouth Resource Recovery Centre aims to create greater sustainability and environmental efficiency in Viridor’s operations while creating ‘a recycling powerhouse’ in the South West.

Sarah Heald, Pennon’s Director of Corporate Affairs and Investor Relations, added: “This is an extremely important investment for the South West. It will create a centre of excellence for UK recycling right here in the region, showcasing leading edge innovation and technology and bringing knock-on benefits to the regional economy.

“As one of the South West’s largest private sector investors and employers we are delighted to be able to invest in a South West recycling powerhouse which will significantly reduce the amount of plastic sent to landfill and help to protect the environment.”

Related Articles