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Championing a cause

Local authorities that are prepared to champion the collection of mixed plastics sourcing programmes with a credible sustainable approach and a willingness to accept some degree of additional cost, could help overcome the barriers to the development of this sector.

A new report, written by Recoup entitled Study to Identify Methods of Enhancing Local Authority Collection of Plastics says that unless non-landfill alternatives are developed, the disposal cost of continuing to landfill plastics waste is set to rise from £73.5 million to £120m by 2009.

The study, funded by the Waste and Resources Action Programme, considers the feasibility of supplying mixed plastics for recycling from domestic waste streams and demonstrates the practicality and affordability of collecting mixed plastics for recycling, rather than for landfill. The study brief sets a goal of sourcing 50,000 tonnes of any domestic plastics for the lowest cost for a hypothetical market. A target of no additional cost to conventional disposal was specified based on a nominal revenue of £3 per tonne for baled mixed plastics.

The combination of increasing waste disposal costs resulting from tightening regulation of waste, limited supply of landfill capacity and a Landfill Tax of at least £35 per tonne is making the collection of mixed plastics for recycling increasingly attractive where a sustainable market exists.

The study states that on the basis of the kind of markets and waste/recyclables management systems described in this report, UK councils could reduce their waste management costs by a total of between £19.5m and £47.5m per annum by 2009 by implementing systems that recover mixed plastics from domestic waste.

According to the report, innovations in waste/recyclables collection and handling technology will make the recovery of plastics-rich streams much more economically viable. The growth of efficient kerbside collections of recyclables along with the Governments emphasis on performance and best value in new council funding will drive progress in domestic waste collection and recycling.

Citing more than 60 councils that have introduced the controversial alternate-week collections of dry recyclables and refuse using traditional vehicle fleets, the report says that the success of these local authorities is achieved by increasing the volume of recyclables collected and reducing the frequency of residual waste collection from weekly to fortnightly. And while local authorities are unlikely to select a recycling system solely to accommodate plastics, the study says that those that do opt for an alternate service have the ideal opportunity to collect plastics efficiently.

Champion councils are likely to exhibit several of the following characteristics, including: relatively high current disposal costs or likelihood of significant increase; are in the highest statutory recycling target band; and have existing alternate-weekly collections of refuse and dry recyclables.

While the drivers for mixed plastics recycling are fairly encouraging, the report identified three key barriers that have to be overcome to achieve the large-scale collection/separation required to hit an initial target supply of 50,000 tonnes. These are:

l Market availability and security

l Unclear development opportunities

l Economics and effect on current systems

Despite this, there are strong markets for plastic bottles collected from the household waste stream, with approximately 1.5% of total household waste recycled through bottle recycling programmes. The main area of development for plastic bottle recycling is the expansion of kerbside collection programmes. The report says that 5.4m households in the UK can now participate in kerbside collections that include plastic bottles. This equates to 22% of all UK homes with bring schemes generating some 6,000 tonnes per annum of recyclable plastic bottles.

Although the report concludes that there is potential within the existing infrastruct

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