26 March 2012

Recoup publishes 2011 plastics recycling survey

Plastics recycling body Recoup has published its latest annual survey giving a definitive overview of the household plastic packaging recycling market in the UK.

The Recoup survey provides an overview of the plastic packaging recycling market in the UK

The Recoup survey provides an overview of the plastic packaging recycling market in the UK

Headline findings from the 2011 UK household plastics packaging collection survey were published five months ago (see letsrecycle.com story) and the final report provides more detail on the recycling of plastic packaging in the UK.

According to the report, which covers 2010, a total of 357,461 tonnes of household plastic packaging was captured for recycling through all collection routes, including kerbside collections and civic amenity sites.

Of this, around 281,000 tonnes comprised of plastic bottles, suggesting that the plastic bottle recycling rate reached 48.5% in 2010. This represents an increase of 3.5% in the bottle recycling rate compared to 2009. However, when viewed in comparison to the previous years data when a 6% rise was achieved, progress appears to have slowed.

Non-bottle plastics

The remaining 76,364 tonnes of material collected in 2010 comprised of non bottle rigid plastics, which saw a significant increase over previous years. According to the data, 2009 to 2010 saw the tonnage of non bottle rigid plastics collected rise by 36,000 tonnes – an increase of 101%. The report states that while the end markets for non bottle rigids are still yet to mature, they would have been likely to attract a value of around 50 per tonne if not contaminated.

Kerbside collections

The full report provides more detail on the collection network for waste plastics in the UK, showing that there are 365 kerbside collection schemes, covering around 22 million (85%) of the estimated 26 million households in the country.

A total of 233,832 tonnes of plastic bottles were received from kerbside collection schemes in 2010, an 8% increase from 2009, while Recoup estimates that up to 40 local authorities collect plastic films from the kerbside.

As well as kerbside collections, there are a total of 8,801 bring sites accepting plastic across the UK, however Recoup expects this number to drop as a more comprehensive kerbside recycling service for mixed household plastic packaging begins to develop.

The report also charts the UKs plastic packaging recycling performance in relation to other European Union member states, finding that the UK posted the fifteenth best recycling rate, up from seventeenth position in 2009. Nations such as Switzerland, Germany and Austria posted plastic packaging recovery rates in excess of 90%, although these appear to have been achieved primarily through energy recovery rather than recycling.

In his introduction to the report, Recoup chief executive Stuart Foster, said: The various components of a successful UK plastic bottle recycling roadmap are falling into place, including a holistic kerbside collection infrastructure, good supporting UK and EU markets for the material generated, and support from an ever more astute supply chain whose own policies are helping to drive forward the recycling and sustainability agenda.

Despite plastic bottle recycling rates increasing beyond even the most optimistic predictions over the last ten years, there is still much work to be done. The estimated cost of landfilling or treating the bottles placed in residual bins in 2010 is 24 million. Even more startling in the current economic climate is the inherent 60 million value that these bottles would attract from reprocessors. In case there is any doubt, used plastic bottles are most definitely a resource.

70% recycling goal

In the document, Recoup outlines its primary policy areas for the coming years, in which it sets out its ambition to see the UK achieve a 70% bottle recycling rate, something it describes as achievable with the right investment.

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In order to achieve this rate of recycling, Recoup claims, it would be necessary for plastic bottle bales to meet no more than a recommended contamination level of 5% of non bottles. As well as this, the organisation is calling for non bottle plastics collections to be implemented only where sorting facilities have the necessary equipment and resources to separate the material and where there are clear end markets for the recycled material.

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