Recycling plastic packaging in the UK – who owns the bottleneck?

Recycling plastic packaging in the UK – who owns the bottleneck?

Sustainability

Plastics resource efficiency and recycling charity, RECOUP, has published its 2022 UK Plastic Packaging Sorting & Reprocessing Infrastructure report, which found there is a clear bottleneck in the UK’s recycling infrastructure for plastic recycling.

The report, available to all RECOUP members, highlights the UK’s ability to sort both household and non-consumer plastic packaging from other materials into separate plastic streams, and to reprocess it into raw materials and products.

Plastic recycling
Plastic recycling © example

RECOUP mapped the recycling facilities and researched the operational capacities in order to produce a number of scenarios to compare the requirements for recycled plastic packaging against the UK’s ability to produce the material. The scenarios looked at benchmarks set by both the UK Plastic Packaging Tax and if material export markets were no longer an option, something the UK relies heavily on to achieve its recycling targets.

This research found that significant increases are required for reprocessing plastic packaging in the UK. This includes the need to increase the current recycling infrastructure by five times for household-like plastic packaging and nine times for food grade plastic packaging. Unless resolving this reprocessing bottleneck is given the necessary priority and investment, and ultimately, ownership, the UK will not be able to claim it has a world-leading recycling system.

RECOUP believes it is imperative that adequate funding through the reform of the UK's Packaging Producer Responsibility System (otherwise known as Extended Producer Responsibility) goes to the right areas. The reprocessing infrastructure needs significant investment and support, particularly when these businesses are open to variable commercial conditions, such as increased energy costs and reduced material value.

Steve Morgan, Head of Policy and Infrastructure at RECOUP, commented:
“The future of the UK’s recycling solutions for plastic packaging is in its own hands, but I’m afraid we might let slip this perfect opportunity to channel appropriate funding into the high impact areas that could transform the UK’s infrastructure capabilities. Effective collection and material sorting to deliver high-quality recycling outputs is essential, but we are at risk around not supporting the reprocessing sector. The capacity to produce the final raw materials to enable a circular economy to exist will just not be in place.”

This article was originally published by RECOUP.

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