SURVEY SHOWS STATE OF UK PLASTICS RECYCLING AHEAD OF CONSULTATIONS

Date Published: Friday 19th March 2021

The Survey highlights that the UK saw a 2% increase in collected household plastics, up to 560kt in 2019.

Whilst some would view these slight increases as a demonstration of a positive trend in the collection of plastic materials, actual recycling rates remain stagnant, in part due to the failure in capturing and recycling the significant quantities of plastic film and flexibles from households.

In 2021, the UK is set to see several consultations that will affect the plastics supply chain, including:

  • Consistent Collections from 2023 (England only)
  • Deposit Return Scheme from 2022 (Scotland only) and 2023 (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland)
  • Extended Producer Responsibility in 2023 (UK)
  • Plastic Packaging Tax in 2023 (UK)

Although we are yet to see if the proposed dates remain or indeed are themselves a point of consultation.

Consistent Collections

For the first time, all 382 UK Local Authorities collect plastic bottles for recycling at the kerbside. Additionally, the number which collect plastic pots, tubs and trays has increased to 85%.

However, the number collecting films and flexibles has dropped to 14%.  At the same time, discussions centred around whether plastic films and flexibles should be included in the material set for Consistent Collections in England, have drawn greater focus on how to best capture and recycle this material.

The Survey reports that there are still widespread inconsistencies in relation to presenting materials, including the basic messages as to whether to remove or keep lids on plastic bottles.

Deposit Return Schemes

With the pending implementation of Deposit Return Schemes across the UK, the impact on Local Authorities and the value of the plastics within their kerbside waste streams is of some concern. As DRS is likely to remove a significant quantity, if not the majority of high quality, valuable PET bottles from their waste streams.

Exports

For several years, it has been reported that foreign markets, particularly China and other Asian countries, have begun to reject poor quality material shipped from developed countries.

In 2021, both the Environment Agency and Basel Agreement have made amendments to the quality of exports they will allow, with contamination and mixes of material types being clamped down on at the point of export. This, in combination with other changes to investment and legislation, including how money raised through Extended Producer Responsibility, will grow the infrastructure to allow the UK to manage its own waste plastics.

COVID-19

Despite the impact of COVID-19 not directly affecting the data for 2019-20, Local Authorities reported significant disruption in 2020. This ranged from vast increases of around 20% in material collected at kerbside offset by huge drops in commercial and On-the-Go collections, service disruption to kerbside collections and widespread closures of Household Waste Recycling Centres.

The RECOUP Survey also reports an increase in fly-tipping and litter during the first lockdown period, potentially linked to the reduction in available waste collections.

The UK Government has spoken of a Green Recovery for the UK, seeking to not only reduce all types of material waste, but also reduction of carbon emissions.

The 2020 RECOUP UK Household Plastics Collection Survey report is now available to download. 

ENDS

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