WRAP to review plastic and metal packaging market flows

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and producer compliance scheme Valpak are working together on two new projects that will review existing estimates of market flows and recycling levels for plastic and metal packaging in the UK.

Commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), the projects will be led jointly by WRAP and Valpak to ‘improve market transparency’ and information on plastic and metal packaging recovery and recycling in the UK while ‘identifying and evaluating possible risks to UK compliance this year, and in subsequent years’.

The ‘MetalFlow 2014’ project (which commenced earlier this year and had its first project steering group meeting earlier this month), will review estimates of metal packaging (specifically, steel and aluminium) placed on the market in the UK, with separate assessments of the amount of recycling and reprocessing.

The ‘Plastic Market Flow 2014’ project will commence in March 2014 and review estimates of the amount of plastic packaging placed on the market. The scope of this project is reportedly still being finalised, and WRAP is currently recruiting ‘key stakeholders’ to its project steering group. 

The work has reportedly been commissioned in response to requests made to Defra (and WRAP) from both the metal packaging and plastic packaging industries to ‘ensure that Scotland, Wales, N. Ireland, Defra, and other government departments, have the highest confidence in the baseline information’ (against which EU packaging targets are assessed), and that it is based on ‘comprehensive, robust, and up to date evidence’.

Indeed, baseline estimates and projections for metal and plastic packaging market flows are currently based on assumed growth rates from historic baselines, rather than confirmed figures.

To help deliver these two projects, WRAP and Valpak have said they will ‘draw on the knowledge and data from trade bodies and other stakeholders including the Advisory Committee on Packaging [ACP] and The Environment Agency’. 

It is thought that MetalFlow 2014 and Plastic Market Flow 2014 will follow similar methodologies to those established in the review of glass packaging, GlassFlow, which was completed in 2012. It was in this report that Valpak found that the statutory business targets for recycling glass for 2013-2017 was too high because ‘the revised flow (or consumption) of glass packaging onto the UK market… is significantly lower than that estimated earlier’.

According to the producer compliance scheme, this was due to a number of reasons including ‘assumptions around growth’ and ‘the issuance of fraudulent packaging recovery notes’.

Basing decisions on ‘robust and comprehensive data’

Speaking of the two projects, Marcus Gover, Director at WRAP, said: “Data is key to achieving clarity. We need the support and input from the industry, and ask them to share their data so that these projects can provide an unbiased and authoritative analysis of the metal and plastic packaging markets.

“Once complete, these projects will provide a sound basis for decisions that could enable increased recovery and recycling of packaging in the UK.”

Steve Gough, CEO of Valpak, added: We felt that this work was of sufficient importance to commit time and resource to the project. We also believe that it must engage the support of key stakeholders, to whom this information is essential, in terms of planning for cost-effective UK compliance, identifying any barriers to more effective collection and recycling and ensuring that the UK is best placed to comply with EU targets and to do so at lowest cost to industry.”

Dan Rogerson, Environment Minister at Defra, said he “fully supported” the projects to review data underpinning the UK’s packaging recycling targets, as he wants government to “have the most robust and comprehensive data available on which to make decisions”. However, he has previously said that from April 2014, Defra will be ‘stepping back’ from producing new waste policy.

Bob Lisney, Chairman of the ACP, also welcomed the two programmes of work, saying the committee was “keen to understand why the amount of packaging placed on the market differs wildly to that of obligated packaging”.

Stuart Foster, the Chief Executive Officer of member-based plastics recycling organisation Recoup, commented: "Understanding plastic packaging arisings data is necessary for benchmarking and target setting. Various reports and research has been carried out previously in this area using different methodologies, all of which use a range of assumptions and estimates. There appears to over 10 per cent discrepancy in currently available arisings data (2.2 million tonnes (mt) to 2.5mt). Any work to refine these approaches and develop a consistent set of data accepted by all groups is supported by Recoup. In real terms I believe obtaining accurate UK arisings data to within 10 thousand tonnes is near impossible, so it will be interesting challenge!"

Anyone interested in finding out more information about the Plastic Market Flow project is asked to contact Project Director Hugh McCoach.