15 October 2019 by Caelia Quinault

WRAP plastics report finds ‘UK capacity challenge’

WRAP has said it is “imperative” to develop new plastics reprocessing infrastructure in the UK as it today (October 15) published its latest market situation report for plastics.

Restrictions on imports of recovered plastics abroad has strengthened the need for reprocessing infrastructure in the UK, according to WRAP

The resource efficiency body said that increased collections of plastics coupled with increased demand for recycled content had created a “capacity challenge” which it said was important to address.

Aimed at local authorities and recycling businesses, the 30-page Plastics Market Situation Report is the first update to be published since 2016 and comes when public concern over single-use plastics is at an all-time high.

It was published as the Government was due today to lay its Environment Bill before parliament, legislation which will lay down the framework for a raft of environmental measures including many to address single-use plastics (see letsrecycle.com story).

Alongside recovered and virgin plastic prices and recovered plastic flows, the report includes analysis on the sustainability of recycled plastics end markets, UK recycling capacity and future risks and opportunities.

Challenges

Peter Maddox, director of WRAP UK, said that the report underlined some “stark challenges” for the sector.

He commented: “This report highlights the positive steps being taken to improve the recycling and reprocessing of UK plastics, as well as the stark challenges that lie ahead. We’re collecting more plastics for recycling, and demand for recycled content has increased as businesses respond to the concerns of citizens who are rightly demanding more sustainable packaging.

“This poses a capacity challenge and it is imperative that we support the development of new reprocessing infrastructure in the UK.”

Mr Maddox added that WRAP was working hard with the plastics supply chain through the UK Plastics Pact, which included targets which he said were “a strong driver of change to increase the recycling of plastic packaging, and to create more sustainable end markets.”

Arisings

One area the report looks at is plastics arisings. It says that around 2.4 million tonnes of plastic packaging were placed on the market in 2017, with this figure remaining broadly stable over the past decade as light-weighting has countered rising consumption levels.

“This report will help local authorities and businesses make investment and communications decisions”

Peter Maddox, WRAP

Meanwhile, the amount of plastic packaging collected by local authorities is estimated to have increased by 10% since 2013/14 to 550,000 tonnes, with all local authorities collecting bottles. Four out of five collect some types of pots, tubs and trays. Around 17% of local authorities accepted empty carrier bags in 2017, with 10% accepting all types of plastic film, it adds.

On the subject of reprocessing, the report points to falling demand from traditional markets like China and said that “greater competition for recycled plastic and the loss of traditional export markets mean that domestic recycling must increase in order to meet stretching targets.”

However, it added a note of caution with regards to the development of new UK reprocessing infrastructure for plastics, advising that “investment in increased plastics recycling infrastructure must be able to weather economic volatility and be adaptable to changes in market need.”

On the policy front, the report also details how governments in the UK, EU and further afield are consulting on policies that could enable both improved supply of quality recovered plastics but also demand, which, up until recently, has largely been absent.

Commenting on the study, Mr Maddox said: “This report will help local authorities and businesses make investment and communications decisions based on robust market information.”

WRAP’s Market Situation Reports are based on analysis undertaken by WRAP’s economist and draw together intelligence from WRAP research, market contacts and secondary data sources.

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