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UK takes the lead in meeting plastic targets

As Australia begins to pick up speed towards setting and meeting sustainable targets, the United Kingdom is being hailed as a leader within the global WARR industry.

During one of the first presentations within The Plastics Revolution session at the National Plastics Summit in March, Nextek managing director Ed Kosior detailed what Australia could learn from the UK. Nextek is a UK consultancy firm specialising in the recycling of plastics packaging from waste up to food grade quality.

He pointed to the national Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which was set up in 2000 to promote sustainable waste management. WRAP describes itself as a catalyst for positive economic and environmental action.

“We work uniquely, and by design, in the space between governments, businesses, communities, thinkers and individuals – forging powerful partnerships and delivering ground-breaking initiatives to support more sustainable economies and society.”

In 2018, WRAP established The UK Plastics Pact and late last year, it published its first annual report and baseline data for the Pact, giving an indication of members’ starting position towards its targets, as well as where the biggest challenges lie:

  • One billion problematic and unnecessary single use plastic items to be eliminated by the end of 2020
  • Pact members are over halfway towards all their packaging being recyclable, and the UK is over half-way towards recycling 70 per cent of plastic packaging
  • Members are a third of the way towards an average of 30 per cent recycled content in their plastic packaging
  • Highly complex challenges remain, such as developing a recycling system for films and flexible packaging

 Nextek managing director, Ed Kosior believes that the most important takeaway for Australia from the UK approach is the understanding that the markets for recycled plastics can be created locally by supplying recycled content into the products created by brand owners and retailers.

He then detailed the steps that Australia could take now:

  • Strong government action to ensure that recycling markets can be found locally
  • Clear and ambitious targets for recycling of packaging and recycled content with tax implications for failure to meet the targets
  • Brand owners need to break the link between the cost of virgin resin and the cost of high-quality recycled plastic to ensure sales are not hindered by old world ‘discard mentality’
  • Creating packaging that is 100 per cent recyclable
  • Making recycling more productive and viable such as removing pigments from packaging

According to Kosiar, there are UK WARR organisations which have invested to meet the targets set by the PACT and to confront global challenges to sustainability.

Viridor makes hefty investment into Avonmouth plant

Viridor has been cited as a strong example in helping the UK move towards targets set out by the UK Plastics Pact. One of the PACT’s main targets is for 70 per cent of plastic packaging to be recycled or composted by 2025. The national rate in 2018 was 44 per cent.

Viridor’s decision to open a £65 million ($120.5 million) new plastics recycling plant at Avonmouth will see it process 81,000 tonnes of PET plastic in the first year, rising to 89,000 tonnes by the third year. The new plant will draw heat and power generated from non-recyclable waste at a £252 million co-located energy recovery facility, which forms part of the Avonmouth Resource Recovery Centre.

Viridor managing director Phil Piddington, has said that this was just the start of an ongoing investment in plastics recycling and reprocessing infrastructure in the UK.

How Biffa will process 1.3M plastic bottles a day

In late January, Biffa opened a £27.5 million recycling plant in Seaham, Ireland for PET plastics. At the same time, the company disclosed that it will be also be investing £7 million in a plant to process 20,000 tonnes per annum of pots, tubs and trays (which are usually made from polypropylene (PP) and PET.

The new Seaham plant is capable of processing 1.3 billion plastic bottles a year. Biffa has stated that it considers plastic recycling as a “significant investment opportunity” partly because of a potential UK ban on the export of plastics for recycling and restrictions in Southeast Asia, as well as UK plans for a plastic tax and container deposit return scheme.

Alongside these developments, the company expects changes to extended producer responsibility as likely to boost demand for recycled plastic material for use by blowmoulders and brands.

Biffa has also highlighted that increasing capture rates are expected in order for future PACT and government targets to be met.The company will also convert PET back into high-purity plastic pellets to be sold on to manufacturers and used for a range of applications, from food and beverage packaging to clothing.

The new facility is expected to generate £40 million in revenues per year and will capitalise on the access to plastic waste that Biffa has through its collections and sorting activities, including the 4.1 million tonnes of waste and recycling the group collects from UK households and businesses annually.

Jayplas tackles film Sorting in Birmingham

Jayplas recently opened a state-of-the-art plastic film sorting facility near Birmingham. The £10 million plant is located at the plastic recycling company’s site at Smethwick and is intended to reduce reliance on exports, the main route through which UK plastic waste film is sent for recycling.

The fully automated film sorting facility at Smethwick is capable of processing up to 12 tonnes of film an hour and 80,000 tonnes of film each year. It has been running since October 2019.

Primarily designed to process film from retailers including major supermarkets, the plant has also begun to trial the sorting of films collected by local authorities and flexible packaging brought back by consumers in-store.

The site was used previously to send containers of plastic waste to China and other Southeast Asian countries.

“The UK is taking ownership of its own plastic waste and creating jobs and investment. This ties in with public opinion on how plastic waste should be recycled, and environmentally and ethically, it makes sense for the UK to go down this route.”

“There will be about 40,000 tonnes going through the plant this year and it will go up to 80-85,000 tonnes per year at full tilt,” Jayplas operations director, Mike Maxwell said.