Swindon borough council is proposing to temporarily stop collecting plastics for recycling and will instead encourage residents to dispose of their plastic in their black residual waste bins.
If approved, the proposal means that the material will be converted into solid recovered fuel (SRF) at a facility on Cheney Manor and sent for energy from waste on the continent.
According to the authority, the main benefit of the “short term” measure is that there is “no risk of it ending up in overseas landfill or worse”. “We will know exactly where our plastic goes and what happens to it,” the council said.
The comments come in relation to report published by the National Audit Office earlier this year (see letsrecycle.com story), which the authority said raised “concerns about whether UK plastic waste exported for recycling actually is recycled and not sent to landfill in other countries”.
Another benefit “is that it may increase recycling of other materials” such as glass, cans and paper/card, the council added, by leaving “less room” in the black bins for these materials.
However, the authority explained: “When plastic recycling becomes more environmentally-friendly and cost effective, we will consider reintroducing a plastic collection service.”
In Swindon, recycling has fallen over the last five years from 48% in 2011 to 38% in 2016/17, the council says. And, collection and disposal of waste in the borough is reported to cost around £14 million per year.
In 2017/18 the council collected a total of 92,522 tonnes of waste and recycling, of which around 56% was converted to SRF and sent to energy from waste, and around 4% was sent to landfill.
Swindon borough council currently collects mixed plastics, which it admits “is poor quality and often includes non-recyclable plastic items”.
The plastic collected in the borough is taken to Swindon-based firm Thamesdown Recycling “where it will ultimately exported to South East Asian markets,” the council said.
“Because of the concerns with plastic waste that is sent overseas we may unknowingly be contributing to plastic waste issues in Asia,” the council claimed.
When contacted by letsrecycle.com, Jeremy Freeth of Thamesdown Recycling explained that the plastics the company receives from Swindon borough council are “low grade” material.
The material received at the company’s site in Cricklade is sent to reprocessors in South East Asia, who are “dealing with it correctly,” he added.
Mr Freeth also noted that the company had not been made aware of the council’s proposals.
Swindon borough council is currently involved in a project by Swindon-based firm Recycling Technologies, which is trialling a machine, which the company claims, can turn all post-consumer plastic into oil and wax.
Recycling Technologies has a pilot machine at the council-owned Waterside Park facility in Swindon (see letsrecycle.com story).
A spokesman for the council told letsrecycle.com that the machine is “still some way off becoming operational for accepting waste from a local authority”.
The technology is only appropriate for low grade plastics, such as bags, the spokesman added, and “would never be the complete solution for dealing with Swindon’s plastic waste”.
The views of residents from the consultation will inform the council’s Waste Strategy, which will be presented to the Cabinet on 5 December. Any changes agreed at the meeting are likely to be implemented from April 2019. The council says the changes are being proposed in order to meet targets for recycling set out in the EU Waste Framework Directive.
Councillor Fionuala Foley, Swindon borough council’s cabinet member for highways and the environment, said: “The way we currently deal with waste will not be fit for purpose in the years to come.
“We are incredibly fortunate in Swindon to have the UK’s only solid recovered fuel plant for household waste so we have a unique solution for dealing with plastic waste that guarantees it does not find its way into landfill overseas or is simply discarded into the environment.”
(Below: video from Swindon showing how the waste to fuel plant works)
The SRF plant in Swindon is used to process all of Swindon’s black bin waste which is currently around 54,000 tonnes a year. The plant operated by PPS – a wholly-owned subsidiary of Swindon borough council – became operational in 2014.
The baled SRF from the plant is collected and shipped to Portugal, Spain, Cyprus, Greece and Latvia.
As well as the proposals on plastics, the council is also looking to stop collecting black bins that contain excess amounts of recycling materials.