Resource Use

Plastics recycling needs to double, warns Recoup


Figures released by member-based plastics recycling organisation Recoup, suggest that the recycling of household plastics will need to almost double if the UK’s recycling targets for 2017 are to be met.

The claim is made in the ‘2013 UK Household Plastics Collection Survey’, which reports on 2012 data concerning plastics recycling across the UK.

Recoup estimates that UK households consumed almost 1.2 million tonnes of plastic packaging in 2012 and that just 37 per cent (440,401 tonnes) of this was recycled.

According to Recoup, the UK will need to recycle 1,213,000 tonnes of plastic packaging by 2017 – more than is currently consumed by householders – for the UK to reach the 2017 target of 57 per cent.

Report details

Taking into account the amount of non-household waste currently recycled (mainly commercial and industrial waste), the report shows that the 2012 recycling figure stood at just 640,613 tonnes. Adapting these figures to solely household waste, the volume of recycled plastic packaging would need to increase from 440,401 tonnes in 2012 to 836,971 tonnes in 2017.

Of the recycled material, over 316,000 tonnes were plastic bottles and almost 124,000 tonnes were plastic pots, tubs, and trays. For both categories, the vast majority were collected through kerbside collection schemes.

Recoup adds that while the recycling rate for plastic bottles is reported to have increased from 52 per cent in 2011 to 58 per cent in 2012, it argues this is largely down to a 'shift' in plastic packaging consumption data rather than any 'substantial increase' in the number of plastic bottles collected.

PRN reform

Elsewhere within the report, it is estimated that 50-70 per cent of plastics collected in 2012 were exported. Recoup warns that China’s ‘green fence’ policy has driven down prices for lower grade plastic waste, often to a negative value.

As the recycling rate for plastic packaging material of this kind currently stands at just 19 per cent, the company argues that developing new, domestic end markets for pots, tubs and trays will provide the ‘necessary drivers’ for increased collection and recycling.

Recoup also reports that there is ‘strong opinion’ that more revenue from packaging recovery notes (PRN) should be invested in collections. Dave Thomas, Policy Officer at the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), commented: “The importance of collections by local authorities are essential in helping industry meet the new plastics recycling targets. There is a clear lack of investment from PRN monies in collections, both in terms of infrastructure but also increasing the quality of the material collected”.

Resource security will deliver a ‘successful green economy’

To try and increase plastic recycling, Recoup suggests the following measures:

  • increasing plastic packaging collection;
  • investing in infrastructure for sorting technologies;
  • developing end markets to ‘provide the necessary drivers for both implementing a collection for pots, tubs and trays’; and
  • designing  ‘sustainable packs’.

Recoup argues that recycling more would also make good business sense, as the estimated value of the 42 per cent of plastic bottles not recycled in 2012 was £19 million (based on the median landfill gate fee for non-hazardous materials) and that these materials would have attracted around £25 million from reprocessors.

Writing in the foreword to the report, Stuart Foster, Chief Executive Officer of Recoup said: ‘Putting specific numbers to one side, we know that plastics recycling is a major success story, but there is also still much more potential to realise.

‘It is fundamental to ensure that the collection and handling systems are affordable, sustainable, and that the material provided to reprocessors is of an acceptable quality… Consumers need clear guidance on which plastics to recycle, why there are limitations, and evidence of how their actions are having a positive impact. ..

‘There is a need to further increase plastic recycling, but also to minimise plastic to landfill. This leaves scope for the development of recovery and chemical reprocessing options where more traditional recycling options are not practicable, cost effective or environmentally viable.’

He concluded: ‘If the principles of resource security are used to develop policies and plans, it will lay the foundations for long term sustainable growth and create a pathway to a successful green economy.’

Read the full ‘2013 UK Household Plastics Collection Survey’