Councils slow to take up plastics recycling because of cost fears

The costs of recycling are still discouraging local authorities from recycling greater amounts of plastic bottles, although bottle recycling organisation Recoup considers that it is too easy to assume the process is very costly.

Last week Ashford Borough Council said that it would be leaving plastics bottle collection out of its kerbside collection work which SITA will be starting under contract in April. The council put the costs of recycling plastic bottles at about 1,500 a tonne and says it cannot afford it.

Most Kent local authorities do not collect plastic bottles although several have collected them in the past. There are two exceptions. Canterbury, operates a scheme for clear and opaque bottles through Brett Waste Management, with material going to Plysu at Milton Keynes.

And in Sevenoaks a scheme started last summer solely for the recycling of plastic milk bottles in Sevenoaks.

Now, Kent County Council and local authorities are now looking at the option of sending plastics they collect to energy from waste plants planned for the county, including the Waste Recycling Group plant to be built at Allington.

Ashford recycling officer David Robinson said: “If we could get plastic recycling off the ground, then we would.”

Mr Robinson explained that while he accepted plastic recycling schemes for particular types of bottle could cost as little as 400, a real problem remained in that the public put all sorts of plastic into banks when asked to just sort specific types, as well as putting in waste materials.
Ian Mackenzie, recycling officer for Canterbury, said that the city collects only clear and opaque bottles and that the energy from waste route could be an option for other plastics. Costs paid by the council are 70 a tonne for collection and sorting of recyclables at the Brett materials recycling facility.

Andrew Simmons, director of Recoup, said he considered the Ashford figure of 1,500 was much higher than typical costs for plastic recycling.

“We estimate typical net costs as between 200-500 per tonne. We did a survey into schemes across the UK and asked for costs. The bottom end was 70-80 a tonne with the highest at 3,000 a tonne.”

Mr Simmons said schemes for plastic bottle recycling should be able to operate at a net cost of 200-250 a tonne. “If you look at the amount of financing for schemes on the continent figures for Belgium and France come out at about 225 a tonne.”

He added: “One of the conclusions that I have come to is that people believe that plastic bottle recycling costs a lot. I don’t think they are as critical of the costs as they should be and need to make the economics of this as explicit as possible.”

These economics included a fair share of collection and transport costs among materials and the addition of savings made in avoiding disposal of the plastic.

Meanwhile, early results from three plastic milk bottle recycling trials run by Recoup have also offered more encouragement for the recycling of bottles at an acceptable cost.

Recoup director Andrew Simmons said that while volumes of bottles into three trial schemes in Stafford, Bromley and Sevenoaks had not been as high as expected at the start of the trial last summer, volumes were now increasing and being maintained after promotional work.

“We are very encouraged from the trials that there is the opportunity to introduce lower plastic bottle recycling schemes.”


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