There are clear environmental benefits to producing plastic products from recovered plastics, compared with using virgin polymers and disposing of the product post-use via incineration or landfill.
main environmental benefit lies in the energy saved by avoiding the
processes of oil refining and polymerisation of monomers. These are
estimated to account for over 95% of the total energy consumed in
environmental gains are, however, heavily dependent on the level of
contamination of the recovered plastics. Overall the choice of
which polymer to use for packaging also has to be balanced, from an
environmental point of view, with what it is trying to, i.e.
protecting the product.
If all of the 456,000 tonnes of plastic packaging collected
kerbside from UK households in 2013/14 (including 351,000 tonnes of
bottles, 87,000 tonnes of PTTs and 18,000 tonnes of film) was
recycled, it would save almost 400,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent
emissions compared with landfill, which equates to taking around
125,000 cars off the road.
improvements have been made by local authorities, the recycling
industry and other parts of the supply chain towards achieving a
circular economy for plastics. This includes a sharp increase in
plastic bottle recycling, the introduction of mixed plastic
recycling collections by the majority of local authorities (LAs)
and light-weighting of plastic packaging by brands and
largest source of plastic packaging is the grocery retail sector,
accounting for almost 1 million tonnes (or 43%) of plastic
packaging arising in 2014
891,000 tonnes of plastic packaging was recycled in 2015, an
increase of more than 50% since the previous Plastics Market
Situation Report (2009)
Future target concerns
concern that the UK may not meet future plastic recycling targets,
the sustainability of recycled plastic end markets is a concern for
brands, manufacturers, LAs and reprocessors alike. This report
shows that there are a wide range of end market sectors and
applications potentially available for UK collected plastic.
European Commission's Circular Economy package (launched in
December 2015) includes a target for 55% of all plastic packaging
waste to be prepared for reuse or recycling by 2025. In order to do
this, more plastic bottles and PTTs will need to be collected and
recycled. Achieving these aims is not going to be without its
The launch of the Plastics Industry Recycling Action Plan (PIRAP)
is an important lever to help achieve both existing UK and future
EU plastics recycling targets. PIRAP will establish co-operation
across the entire waste plastics supply chain, and through a series
of agreed and co-ordinated actions should ensure that an increasing
volume of end of life waste plastics is successfully recycled into
sustainable second life applications.
whole supply chain needs to consider the environmental impact of
the plastic being used for PTTs, the ability of plastic
reprocessors to recycle it, and the sustainability of end market
demand. With over two-thirds of LAs collecting pots, tubs and trays
(PTTs), finding sustainable end markets for these non-bottle rigid
plastics is of particular concern.
While recycling end markets are being developed for the main
polymers, at the present time it is clear that used polystyrene
(PS) packaging from the household waste stream is not currently
recycled, and has little or no end market demand. WRAP is playing a
role here in helping UK industry develop the technical and
financial foundations for long-term end markets to be
Green Fence (OGF), introduced in early 2013, resulted in stricter
enforcement of Chinese import controls over the quality of
recovered material imported into the country. Meanwhile, the
slowdown in economic growth in China has raised concerns that
growth in demand for recovered plastic from China may
remains the dominant destination for UK recovered plastic,
accounting for almost two-thirds of the UK's exports. China's focus
on moving towards a more consumer driven economy and away from
manufacturing, the formalisation of its recycling sector and the
introduction of circular economy policies and targets may mean that
in future there is a growing availability of high quality,
domestically available recovered plastic, reducing the demand for
Competition with other countries also exporting recovered
plastics, uncertain legislation, enforcement practices in China and
other end destinations and the prospect of export markets showing a
growing reliance on domestically sourced material means that the
risks are high.
recyclers are particularly vulnerable to changes in market
conditions, due to their position in the middle of the supply
chain. Lack of control over input quality, availability and cost
means that reprocessors are at risk of receiving lower quality
are also largely dependent on spot markets for selling their
product, which can result in sharp fluctuations in revenue, while
also risk being easily substituted for virgin material. A business
model based on the ability to supply products to a wide range of
end markets, and at low cost, is most likely to be resilient and
robust in the current environment.
Any loss in UK plastic reprocessing capacity could result in a
heavier reliance upon export markets for recovered plastic while
also potentially making it more difficult to meet plastic packaging
polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles prices and mixed
polymer plastic bottle prices have generally declined since 2011
due to lower oil and cotton prices and concerns about China's
enforcement of import controls. Meanwhile, natural high-density
polyethylene (HDPE) bottle prices have remained relatively strong
in comparison due to virgin HDPE production problems. It is
important to note that all commodity markets move in cycles, and
recovered plastic prices are no different.
infrastructure based on the ability to supply products to a wide
range of end markets, and at low cost, are those businesses most
likely to be resilient and robust in the current
approvals for its Ecotrax® recycled plastic railway sleeper, the
impending European ban on creosote and growing demand for
alternatives to timber sleepers has led
establish a UK manufacturing base. Sicut anticipates that it will
utilise over 25,000 tonnes of recycled plastic waste per annum by
2018/19 and that this will make a significant contribution to UK
targets on sustainability, waste and landfill, as well as reducing
the demand for imported hardwood.
are those derived, either partially or completely, from biomass
sources. Any plastic however derived (bio or petroleum), that is
manufactured/ altered in order to degrade at end of life could
present a significant problem to conventional plastic recyclers,
even if technically it remains fully compatible with its
non-biodegradable equivalent in the actual recycling process. This
is because the progress and rate of degradation is unknown,
rendering the recycled polymer untrustworthy for any long term
durable second life application.
bio derived polymers that remain fully compatible with their
petro-chemically derived equivalents in the recycling process (for
example bio-PE and bio-PET) do not present a problem to plastic
recyclers, so long as they are not also biodegradable.
derived polymers that are not fully compatible with their
petro-chemically derived equivalents in the recycling process (such
as Polylactic acid which is often made from corn starch) may be a
problem for recyclers - irrespective of whether they are degradable
production capacity of bioplastic is projected to increase from 3.5
million tonnes in 2011 to nearly 12 million tonnes in 2020.
However, with global plastics production expected to reach 400
million tonnes in 2020, the market for bioplastics will remain
are thought to have a negligible impact on global food supply.
According to estimates from European Bioplastics, the amount of
land devoted to supplying bioplastic feedstock totalled 0.6 million
hectares in 2013, 0.01% of global agricultural land.
out more about recycling...
RAY Ceredigion: Recycling and Scrap Store
Recycle For Wales
Keep Wales Tidy
Love Your Clothes
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