Viridor research shows £1bn needed to ‘end’ UK’s plastics exports

Building 46 plastics sorting and reprocessing facilities across the UK could end the country’s reliance on exports, research conducted by Anthesis and commissioned by Viridor suggests.

The UK exports 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling every year, Anthesis suggests (picture: Shutterstock)

Published today (30 June), the research shows the amount of plastic packaging ending up in household recycling bins is set to increase by 45% by 2035.

The UK “already lacks sufficient recycling infrastructure”, sustainability consultancy Anthesis says, and exports 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling every year.

Anthesis claims that “without additional investment” this infrastructure gap will increase to a million tonnes for sorting and 645,000 tonnes for reprocessing plastic by 2035.

Investing £1 billion in building the 46 facilities would meet the gap, create 1,100 permanent “skilled green jobs” and a further 975 in the supply chain and deliver “economic benefits” of more than £3 billion across 25 years, Anthesis says.

The North West would “benefit the most”, the research suggests, with an opportunity for £400 million of investment across 15 facilities, creating 420 jobs and delivering local economic benefits of £1 billion across 25 years.

Anna Brockhaus, a consultant at Anthesis, said: “Our research shows how investment in high quality plastics recycling infrastructure is not only critical to drive down waste and carbon emissions, but that this could also unlock economic benefits across the UK.”

Barriers

Anthesis says it identified “significant interest but also substantial barriers” to investment in the recycling sector through one-on-one interviews conducted as part of the research.

Investors highlighted “a number of risks”, including price volatility in markets for recycled plastics and short-term contracts in the recycling sector.

Long-term contracts of at least 10 years are “needed” to create the stable revenues necessary to deliver the investment, Anthesis claims.  Currently, the average length of contracts in the sector is just three to five years.

Plastics

The UK currently uses around 2.3 million tonnes of plastic packaging each year, Anthesis says, of which only 54% (1.3 million tonnes) is collected for recycling.

The UK uses around 2.3 million tonnes of plastic packaging each year, Anthesis says (picture: Shutterstock)

The research estimates that the amount of plastic packaging collected for recycling will increase by as much as 45% by 2035, to 1.8 to 1.9 million tonnes per year.

“This increase will be driven by policy reforms designed to drive up stagnating recycling rates,” Anthesis says.

On 1 April, a plastic packaging tax came into effect in the UK, applying to packaging manufactured in or imported where the plastic used less than 30% recycled. The tax is set at £200 per metric tonne of plastic packaging and aims to provide a clear economic incentive for businesses to use recycled plastic material. This has seen some grades of recycled plastic command much higher prices in recent months.

Earlier this year, Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, suggested he would like to see an end to all waste exports from the UK (see letsrecycle.com story). Recyclers from across the sector, including the Recycling Association, the RDF Industry Group and the British Metals Recycling Association, slammed the proposal (see letsrecycle.com story).

Avonmouth

In March, Viridor, which operates 10 EfW plants across the UK, opened a polymer reprocessing facility at Avonmouth, near Bristol (see letsrecycle.com story). The waste management company says the facility, which is designed to process 80,000 tonnes of plastic every year, will enable it to recycle more than 90% of the plastics it previously exported from the UK.

Viridor opened its Avonmouth polymer reprocessing facility in March

Responding to the publication of the research, Dr Tim Rotheray, Viridor’s director of ESG, said: “When people put out their plastic recycling each week, they expect that material to be recycled in the UK.

“Ending plastic waste export is not only the right thing to do but also a major employment opportunity across the UK.

“New policy could unlock up to £1 billion in new industrial facilities up and down the country.

“Businesses are ready to invest and policy reforms have the potential to address the barriers identified in this report, while putting the UK on track for a circular plastics economy.”

Related link
Bridging the Gap: Ending the UK’s Reliance on Plastic Waste Export

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