Differences between packaging waste data and HMRC export figures for recycling have prompted reports in the national press over the UK’s recycling sector being investigated for fraud.
While some of what the media have reported over exports is not new, the coverage in the Guardian and coverage today in the Daily Telegraph of Southampton’s plan to end plastic recycling via the use of recycling banks has prompted discussion within the sector.
One packaging waste expert told letsrecycle.com today: “While this isn’t new, there is something of a crunch time in terms of finding markets for materials. The big question is whether the new Resources and Waste Strategy will do enough to help in the short term.”
Others in the sector point to signs that UK recyclers of plastics are starting to invest more in the domestic market and that encouragement of producers and manufacturers to use more recycled plastic will come, partly through WRAP’s plastic pact. Others feel that the Environment Agency should be doing more to monitor exports and carry out more inspections, something which Marie Fallon, the Agency’s director of regulated industries, recently conceded was behind target.
A detailed response on the current situation came from Jeff Rhodes, head of environment and external affairs at Biffa.
Mr Rhodes said: “Recent articles regarding household plastics recycling collections in The Telegraph and increased scrutiny from the EA into waste crime, as reported by the Guardian, support the case for a new approach to resources and waste policy in the UK – as Biffa and the waste industry generally have been highlighting for some time. This is exactly why the government’s new Resources and Waste Strategy cannot be delayed any longer.
“Anticipated new measures like a new Extended Producer Responsibility scheme, designing packaging and products for recyclability, single use plastic tax and deposit return schemes, can all help stimulate more recycling investment in the UK and reduce the reliance on export markets for some materials.”
“We recommend focusing resource on increasing the recycling rates for plastics.”Jeff Rhodes
Mr Rhodes added: “In the meantime, while some lower grade mixed plastics like pots, tubs, and trays are potentially recyclable, until there is progress on new policies and facilities in the UK, we recommend focusing resource on increasing the recycling rates for plastics with a well-established supply chain. Items such as PET drinks bottles and HPDE milk containers – which our award-winning Biffa Polymers plant processes and recycles extremely successfully – have stronger end markets and the importance of these needs to be recognised by councils and government policy.”
He concluded: “The recognition of the importance of end markets to recycling and their support is something we at Biffa have campaigned on for some time now, including in our ‘Reality Gap’ report and recent ‘Ten Point Plan’. We hope and expect to see this and many other recycling-related issues addressed in the new Resources and Waste Strategy and related budget measures due from Government over the next few weeks.”