Brussels is unlikely to offer short-term support to beleaguered plastics recyclers whose products have been undercut by a large fall in the cost of primary polymers as oil prices have tumbled.
Karl Falkenberg, director general of environment at the European Commission, acknowledged the current situation was a challenge but said it was one that had been encountered in the past.
“What we need to do as a union is take a longer-term look at this issue. One of the problems that I see regularly is short-term industrial and policy decisions.
“I remain convinced that raw material prices will increase and, in the longer term, the direction we are travelling makes sense.”
He said he did not believe there was scope for subsidy, and more effort had to be made to improve the quality of recycled materials.
“We need to make sure we don’t go to quantity: we need to continuously increase the quality of our recyclates. That’s the best way to fight against price variations.”
But he thought there was scope in government procurement for incentives for the use of recycled materials.
Falkenberg’s comments, at a conference on the circular economy in Brussels this week, came after representatives from waste, resources and plastics industry associations, Defra, the retail sector, major brand owners and WRAP met to discuss the particular problems facing rHDPE processors in the milk bottle supply chain.
Resource minister Dan Rogerson called for renewed support for the Dairy Roadmap and Courtauld Commitment agreements that have boosted the collection and recycling of plastic packaging by specifying minimum recycled content.
But the outcome prompted the Resource Association to say “warm words are not enough”, and it warned of the danger of supermarkets and large dairy businesses turning away from the roadmap consensus. It said that an extra 0.1p spent on every rHDPE bottle would ease the situation.
Under the Dairy Roadmap, retailers have succeeded in hitting a requirement that 30% of rHDPE would be used in milk bottles. The goal for 2030 is 50%.
The two companies most affected are Biffa Polymers and Closed Loop Recycling. Chris Hanlon, commercial manager at Biffa Polymers, which was set up in 2007, acknowledged that business was “incredibly challenging” but the company hoped that oil prices – and that of polymers – would be corrected.
Hanlon said it wasn’t “all doom and gloom”, and he praised the bottle blowers in the supply chain for helping to cushion the blow. “They are taking a hit and they are working with us as we see this being a blip.”