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EA packaging figures for 2013's second quarter 'surprisingly good'

Environment Agency figures on the reprocessing and export of packaging material for the second quarter of 2013 were better than expected, according to experts.

This indicates that the Chinese crackdown on imports of low quality material had limited consequences and that packaging recycling targets for most of the materials are within reach, they told MRW.

For material such as plastics and paper/board, a modest decline in exports was offset by an increase in domestic reprocessing.

The overall amount of plastics reprocessed or exported grew 5% quarter-on-quarter. This was the result of growing domestic reprocessing, up 19%, against a limited decline in export, down 4%.

“With all the debate about the Green Fence virtually halting [exports to China], in the end, there was only a 4,000 tonnes fall in exports that was countered by an extremely strong UK performance, up 12,000 tonnes from Q1 to Q2,” said Phil Conran, director at 360 Environmental.

According to Chris Taylor, trader at Clarity Environmental, the lack of a significant decrease in exports could have been driven by high Packaging Export Recovery Notes (PERNs) opening up new export destinations, such as Indonesia or Malaysia.

Similarly, increased domestic reprocessing of paper/board, which was up by some 24,000 tonnes, mitigated a decline in export, which was down by around 36,500. This resulted in a 2% decrease in the overall amount of paper/board material reprocessed or exported.

The figures seem to confirm that UK recyclers have coped well with export limitations imposed by the Green Fence, as the Recycling Association has recently pointed out.

Dramatic swings in glass recycling

Figures for glass re-melt, however, painted a completely different picture, with exports increasing by 61% and domestic reprocessing declining by 13%.

Also noteworthy, according to Conran, was a 43%, or 44,000 tonnes, increase in the domestic reprocessing of glass aggregate.

“The amount of glass collected is fairly consistent,” said Conran, “So it seems odd that the amount reported has seen such a large swing. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing which accredited parties are responsible for these swings as the EA will not release any detailed data.”

The glass recycling market has proven particularly vulnerable to manipulation, as shown by the distortion caused by the Nationwide Recycling fraud.

Targets in sight

The positive figures for the second quarter of the year has positioned the UK recycling market on track to meet the 2013 packaging targets for most of the materials.

This is particularly surprising for plastics, as previous forecasts indicated reaching the target for 2013, which rose to 37%, would be challenging.

“With 49.2% of this year’s requirement having now being met, the 2013 target certainly seems achievable,” said Conran.

The best performer among the materials in the first half of the year was steel. According to Conran, the combined Q1 and Q2 figures indicated that 67% of the annual target has already been met.

Taylor said that the increase in steel reprocessing was driven by high PRN prices, but that he would expect them to soften in the coming months.

Similarly, figures shows that the aluminium target has now been met for 59%, according to Conran.

Glass, on the other hand, was in a “state of limbo”, said Taylor, as despite improvements, both grades were behind the targets.

The overall recycling rate for the first two quarters of 2013 stood at 51.8% of the annual target, according to Conran.

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