7 May 2019 by Joshua Doherty

Eyes on plastic and aluminium in Q1 packaging data

Some concerns have been raised over plastics and aluminium recycling performance in Q1 2019 packaging recycling data, despite a largely positive performance in other materials.

Provisional packaging recycling data for the first quarter of 2019, published on the National Packaging Waste Database (NWPD) website, gives an indication of how much packaging waste has been recycled or exported during the three months from January to March 2019.

The data shows that performance for wood, glass, paper and steel all increased compared to the same period in 2018, while the steel market also showed an increase against the same period last year.

However, performance in aluminium and plastics has caused some concern, with a potential shortfall in tonnages of material available to meet targets looking possible.

Tonnages of packaging waste counted for recycling Q1 2018 & 2019 (000s tonnes) Source: National Packaging Waste Database

Plastic PRN

Tonnages of plastics available for recycling have been under pressure due to a squeeze in export markets, which has seen plastic PRNs trade in excess of £180 per tonne, compared to around £60 at the same point in 2018. Similarly, the price paid for aluminium PRNs rose to between £75-105 in April in light of the latest figures.

A better picture of the progress towards 2019 targets will be confirmed once the total obligation for schemes is approved and published by Defra later this month.

Commenting on the data, Tom Rickerby, head of trading at The Environment Exchange (T2E), said: “It’s been a bruising early trading period for producers as uncertainty and negative sentiment in recycling markets have continued to fuel high PRN prices.

“Plastic and Aluminium recycling levels are less comfortable and they appear to be lagging behind the required recycling levels, based on the unverified data.”


Sarah Foster
Comply Direct

“However, the release of strong Q1 data has brought a timely dose of quantitative easing to counter the bullish outlook. Strong results in Wood, Glass and Steel have seen prices in all three materials converge on the Paper/General recycling price. Whilst buyers can remain cautiously optimistic on these materials, weak returns in Plastic and Aluminium will cause concern.”

These comments were echoed by Sarah Foster, commercial manager at Comply Direct, who welcomed the positive performance for glass, paper, steel and wood.

“With this year’s higher recycling targets across all materials it’s encouraging to see positive recycling levels for glass, paper, steel and wood and these materials could be cited as good examples of the PRN system working to stimulate or maintain recycling activity,” she commented.

‘Lagging behind’

But, she added: “Plastic and Aluminium recycling levels are less comfortable and they appear to be lagging behind the required recycling levels, based on the unverified data.”

John Mooney, director of Pennine Pak, said it can be difficult to gauge performance based solely upon the Q1 data, and sounded a note of caution over overall target levels.

He said: “It can be difficult to directly compare the first quarter figures from one year to another, as PRNs do fluctuate a lot throughout the year because of external factors. For example, last year wood was relatively low in Q1, but picked up later in the year.

“I think once you add in a 10% jump in the targets as well, the 2019 compliance year will be exceptionally difficult, but not impossible.”

Data in tonnes collected, correct as of 7/05/2019

Last month, final data for the 2018 compliance year showed that individual material targets had been met, but pointed to a potentially more challenging 2019 due to a smaller volume of PRNs carried over into the new year (see letsrecycle.com story).

‘Contingency planning’ 

“We hope that government and regulators are advanced in their planning for the eventuality of the UK missing the recycling targets.”


Robbie Staniforth
Ecosurety

Speaking to letsrecycle.com, Robbie Staniforth, head of policy at Ecosurety, commented that he was pleased to see a positive picture for the majority of materials, but said that plastic and aluminium recycling levels remain a concern. He called for steps to be taken to protect against the potential for some targets to be missed.

Mr Staniforth said: “We hope that government and regulators are advanced in their planning for the eventuality of the UK missing the recycling targets. Defra have asked the Advisory Committee on Packaging for help with identifying risks, short-terms fixes and how to encourage UK reprocessing.

“We hope these suggestions can be implemented to ensure the UK does not knowingly miss targets without appropriate contingency planning. The limits of what the current PRN system can achieve are being reached.”

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