WRAP’s Plastic Market Situation Report published in October outlined the latest data and in-depth information about UK plastics recycling and processing. The report aimed at local authorities (LAs) and recycling businesses provides insight into the key developments over recent years, whilst highlighting challenges and opportunities going forward.
Peter Maddox, Director of WRAP UK said: “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. Though the UK Plastic Pact we are working hard with the plastics supply chain to address this. The targets are a strong driver of change to increase the recycling of plastic packaging, and to create more sustainable end markets.”
The market report highlights the increased public awareness and ever-growing concern of mismanaged plastic waste and the subsequent environmental impact on the world’s oceans and habitats. It states that plastic is a global challenge and since consumption is likely to grow as emerging economies continue to develop we must ensure that all countries have the necessary waste management infrastructure to protect our surroundings and stop plastic waste reaching the environment.
Plastic Packaging Arising
The report states that the latest estimates indicate that approximately 2.4 million tonnes (Mt) of plastic packaging was placed on the market (POM) in 2017. Of said 2.4Mt approximately 1.5Mt originated from the consumer sector. When looking at data submitted by obligated packaging producers from 2006, it indicates that the overall plastic packaging POM has “remained broadly stable as light-weighting has countered higher consumption”.
The report estimates that the amount of plastic packaging collected by UK local authorities (LAs) has increased by 10% since 2013/14. The data shows that “nearly all LAs collect plastic bottles with around four out of five collecting at least some types of pot, tubs and trays (PTTs)”. The report also highlights the policy changes on the horizon relating to collections; following significant public interest Defra has committed to introducing consistent collection recycling measures by 2023.
Export Markets Closed & Increase of UK Domestic Recycling Required
Following the loss of traditional export markets in South East Asia, including China, there has been a significant impact on the price of recycling some materials, in particular plastics. Therefore a stronger UK domestic plastic recycling infrastructure must be developed and investment made. The report stated that said investment “must be able to weather economic volatility and be adaptable to changes in the market need.”
Increased Demand for Recycled Contact from UK Plastic Pact and Beyond
Many brands have pledged to reduce their environmental impact and increase overall sustainability. One common commitment is to reduce the impact of their packaging by introducing recycled content. With UK Treasury announcing the introduction of a tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content, there is likely to be an increased demand for recycled content as producers adapt, therefore creating a market for recycled material.
Governments across the globe are consulting on policies to address the plastic waste epidemic. Here in the UK Defra published their Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS) in December 2018 which laid out a 25 Year Environmental Plan, aiming to make the UK a world leader in resources efficiency and reducing the waste we create as a society; moving towards a more circular-economy.
The RWS was closely followed by four fundamental consultations that closed in May 2019, the results of which were published in the summer this year (2019). The outcome confirmed that the Government intend to seek to introduce Extended Producer Responsibility, Deposit Return Scheme (DRS); and Consistent LA Collections across the UK by 2023. The UK Treasury also proposed a tax on plastic packaging that has less than 30% recycled content. This aims to support EPR whilst creating greater demand for recycled plastic, consequently incentivising design, collection and recycling, whilst improving resource value and productivity.