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Market Focus: Plastics

The WRAP-commissioned Plastics Industry Recycling Action Plan (Pirap), prepared by the Plastics 2020 group, aims to help obligated businesses reach their 57% plastics recycling target for 2017.

It makes a number of recommendations to key stakeholders along the plastics supply chain that are designed to boost recycling and support a viable market for the material.

Latest analysis indicates that the UK’s collection of waste plastics packaging has flat-lined. In addition, demand from China and other Asian markets for British plastic packaging waste has levelled off as their own reprocessing facilities increasingly focus on internally generated volumes.

The report concludes that for the 57% figure to be met, the UK’s plastics recycling industry has to take dramatic action – and soon. Recommendations are made for each sector along the supply chain: Government and regulators, waste management companies, sorters and reprocessors, local authorities, and obligated companies.

Government and regulators

Pirap suggests that the Government reforms the PRN/PERN system to ensure a level playing field for domestic reprocessors and exporters.

The system needs to encourage quality waste streams by focusing on separation, lowering contamination and producing high quantities of material through enhanced collections. This will boost the appeal of British plastic waste exports and bolster domestic reprocessing for use in new products.

A producer responsibility legislative framework that contains tax breaks for recycled content and other financial incentives would encourage financial investment into the system and increase the number of jobs in the sector.


It also suggests that the Government amends current regulations so that reprocessors and exporters are required to report plastic tonnages to ensure accurate monitoring of the effectiveness of policy reforms.

Local authorities

As the most important bodies in the capture of domestic plastic waste, the plan recommends that local authorities expand the range of collected plastic types, as well as benchmarking their performance against other local authorities, in order to identify where improvements can be made.

The report says more local collections should consider adding pots, tubs and trays (PTTs) to kerbside collections as well as bottles, along with making provision for the collection of plastic packaging waste ‘on the move’.

Procurement policies should be implemented that encourage the purchase of products that contain recycled content. This has the potential to boost local reprocessors and provide a stable market for recycled materials.

Councils should also carry out more campaigns aimed at consumers that encourage greater participation in household plastic recycling. As an example, Pirap suggests greater support for the ‘Pledge 4 Plastics’ campaign.

Obligated companies

Companies that have a recycling obligation under the UK producer responsibility regulations should be incentivised to implement practices that fit within the circular economy guidelines while reducing unnecessary financial expenditure.

Pirap suggests that such companies should conduct reviews of the data submitted to the National Packaging Waste Database to ensure that they are as accurate as possible.

Compliance schemes are urged to persuade unregistered reprocessors to register with the PRN system, adding an incentive to provide them with an additional source of income.

Obligated companies are encouraged to take WRAP’s design for recyclability guidance into consideration for all pack design processes, and increase the use of in-store packaging collection points.

Between 30,000 and 60,000 tonnes of black plastic packaging enters the UK market annually and is not recycled due to current sorting techniques. Detectable black pigments should therefore see greater adoption so that this waste stream can be easily reprocessed.

Waste management companies, sorters and reprocessors

The development of end markets for recycled materials is essential to the commercial viability of plastics recycling and achieving the targets set out in the report. In addition, greater investment in needed in the UK’s sorting and reprocessing infrastructure.

Pirap specifically cites the recycling of household films and PET trays as markets that need development. Although successful trials have been carried out for recycling these materials, commercial-scale operations should be developed to capture of these materials.

The report also suggests modifying existing facilities so that major consumer streams such as PTTs can be more widely recycled.

Revenue generated from PRNs and PERNs should be reinvested into infrastructure so that the system becomes self-reinforcing.

Companies are also encouraged to work closely with councils on communication campaigns in order to bolster the tonnages of recycled materials that are captured for reprocessing.  


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