Q3 waste packaging figures tell a story of a glass ceilling too high for the resource sector, with experts calling the target for Q4 “impossible”.
The latest quarterly figures from the the Environment Agency (EA) show that 565,000 tonnes of glass PRNs are needed for the industry to achieve its recycling targets - a steep order considering that the average tonnage for the first three quarters of the year was 360,000.
To a lesser extent, steel is also struggling but other materials are largely meeting targets.
Phil Conran, of consultants 360 Environmental, said on his website: “As feared, it [the data] has shown a similar level of glass recycling to Q2 and has now left the compliance industry with the impossible task of finding 565k tonnes of glass PRNs for Q4.”
Conran told MRW: “It is because demand isn’t there or because the previous figures we have seen in previous years are based on fraud - this is what we don’t know. The suspicion is that last year - where you had an average of about 450,000 tonnes a quarter - the figure was to some extent based on PRNs that have been issued fraudulently.
“There will be concern in the market that the targets that we are working to this year have been predicated on numbers that might be based on incorrect information. The compliance industry will be concerned that the targets have been impossible to achieve right from the beginning.”
Conran added: “There should have been given some kind of indication given by the Environment Agency as to the level of fraud, which they are presumably investigating. If some of the shortfall this year has been affected by fraud, and we have not have access to these figures, then clearly it makes it quite dificult for the market to operate without that information.”
An Environment Agency spokesman said: “The Environment Agency regulate the system but we have no power to influence the price or the volumes of waste packaging being collected. It is up to the market to resolve fluctuations. In a system based on producer responsibility we expect schemes to comply. We will continue to collate figures on reprocessing and regularly update Defra.”
Some glass compliance scheme operators said that the final quarter figures were likely to show a significant increase, although there were still doubts over whether targets could be met.
Valpak marketing director Duncan Simpson said the company had been working hard with reprocesesors to get more glass through the system.
“Valpak believes there to be sufficient material that has been collected, but until recently the economics have not justified moving and processing some of the poorer quality material to an end market (which generates the evidence),” he said. “The rise in the PRN price has now more than corrected that situation allowing this material to flow once more to generate evidence. As a result we predict a significant increase will occur in Q4.”
“The work we have been doing will ensure that additional tonnage flows through the system in Q4 to meet Valpak’s requirements and go a long way towards meeting the requirements for the UK as a whole. However, it is vital all parties work constructively together over the last few months of the year to meet the legal obligations of schemes and producers.”
Ian Andrews of t2E pointed out that the Q3 figures were likely to be affected by exports impacted by Portuguese dock workers going on strike. But he added: “Part of what has caused the problem is that the market didn’t react when the first quarter figures were low and continued to trade at around £15 or £16 until the first half of the year.”
Tim Gent, director of glass recycling firm Recresco said that the company had been very busy in the past couple of months.
“The problem is not that there isn’t enough glass, it’s just that we’re running out of time,” he said. “Now the price has gone up but it takes time for the market to line up and have the material come through. But the last quarter will be the best by far, if the target is missed it won’t be by much.”
Concerns have also been raised that obligated companies may decide it is now not worth paying up to £80 for PRNs if there is no chance of the target being met.
However, DEFRA said that there would be no excuse for those who failed to meet requirements.
A spokesperson said: “We expect producers to make every effort to comply with their packaging recycling and recovery obligations. The Agencies will take appropriate enforcement action against those who do not comply. We will continue to monitor the situation.”