A new strategy aimed at improving plastic waste recycling has been launched by the BPFRG (The British Plastics Federation Recycling Group). Industries that deal with waste plastics are being encouraged to develop, in order to keep more valuable plastic materials in the UK. These could then be used in manufacturing, rather than being exported or added to a landfill. Recycled plastics can contribute in a major way to the green economy and, depending on the polymer and how it is manufactured, they can save from sixty to eighty percent of CO2. Currently, however, manufacturers that use recycled plastic products are not differentiated from those who use virgin materials.
There are four main elements to the new strategy:
Firstly, the plastic packaging recycling target will be split between domestic plastic recycling and non-UK markets. Prior to Brexit, targets were split between waste remaining in the UK and Europe, and waste exported to other countries in the world. Plastic recycling in the UK would increase over time, ensuring that more secondary material could be kept in the UK and used by the manufacturing sector.
Quality standards will be raised to ensure that the plastic feedstock made available to manufacturers is in higher demand and can be used commercially. This would involve additional sorting being carried out by plastic reprocessors, and only acceptable materials being taken. The standards could involve existing work such as the Resource Association’s Recycling Quality Information Point and would generally improve quality.
At present, there are barriers preventing certain materials from being viably recycled. An investment fund will enable new technologies to be developed that will increase the viability of recycling certain materials. Ensuring that these technologies are commercially viable could mean that materials such as pots, tubs and trays, of which only 30% are currently recycled, could more easily be recycled and contribute towards the UK’s plastic packaging recycling target, which is 57% by 2020.
The final element of the strategy involves specific policies regarding the procurement process. Large companies and public bodies would be required to include recycled materials in their procurement processes, in order to improve confidence in the sector and create stable end markets. The range of products that included recycled materials in their contents would be widened. This strategy would enable the wider public to appreciate the part these plastics play in the manufacturing process, and how valuable they are. This, in turn, would increase general motivation to recycle where possible.
In conclusion, this new strategy could enable the UK to be more self-sufficient in manufacturing and to be less susceptible to threats from other markets abroad. Plastic manufacturing and recycling companies are able to champion the use of recycled plastics, as opposed to importing virgin materials, as all the necessary factors are already in place and simply need industry support. Some types of waste, such as household films and rigid packaging other that bottles, are more difficult to recycle and new technologies will be needed for this. Overall, there is a need to demonstrate that, despite widely held current beliefs, plastic can be a valuable and sustainable raw material.