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Markets: Plastics 7 December

In 2013 the markets for the plastic fractions of PET, natural HDPE and mixed bottles have been relatively stable, with markets again reporting relatively consistent prices during November.

  • Mixed bottles are typically in the price range of £130 per tonne for high and £50 per tonne for lower quality – this has remained the same with no significant changes.
  • Clear PET bottle prices being £250 per tonne to £280 per tonne.
  • Natural HDPE bottle prices between £380 per tonne and £420 per tonne.

The viability of UK plastics packaging recycling targets has attracted much attention in the past year. Increasing recycling is the right approach and the targets are achievable in theory. But the question is, will we achieve them, given that we are nearing the end of 2013 already and there is still a critical need to significantly increase collection of bottles and develop strong markets for the ever-increasing amounts of pots, tubs and trays being collected? We need approximately 100,000 tonnes of additional material from households each year for recycling to hit the increasing targets; this roughly equates to one extra bottle and pot each week from each UK household.

Whilst striving to hit targets, it is fundamental to ensure that the collection and handling systems are affordable, sustainable and that the material provided to reprocessors is of an acceptable quality. It would be great to have a strong UK plastic reprocessor base to reduce reliance on export, or at least find a fairer way of applying the plastic PRN so it does not artificially favour export.

The UK as a whole has been comfortably ahead of the mandatory EU plastic packaging recycling target (22.5%) for some time now. But the latest data from Plastics Europe yet again shows that the UK is languishing in the plastic packaging recycling league, although the nine countries that achieve minimal plastic to landfill do so by recycling 30-50% of the plastic packaging, and sending the rest through EfW systems. Many achieve their plastic packaging recycling levels at substantially higher costs to the supply chain when compared to the UK.

The increased dialogue around plastic recycling at European level is gaining momentum after the green paper on plastics was released earlier this year. Plastic Recyclers Europe suggests 62% plastic recycling is achievable by 2020 in their latest study. EU discussions on plastics indicate landfill bans, specific targets for collection and sorting, mandatory criteria for recyclability, and the overarching aim of 75% of plastic packaging recycled by 2020 are all on the agenda.

If the current direction develops into full-scale directives and policies, it could go well beyond the boundaries of current EU best practice, infrastructure and UK recycling targets.

Stuart Foster, chief executive, Recoup

Household recycling study in France:

A study on the feasibility of extending the recycling of household plastics packaging in France has produced mixed results but researchers have suggested rolling out the system nationally. In autumn 2011, Eco-Emballages launched a pilot in 51 French municipalities to add mixed plastics and films to the current PET and HDPE bottles collection system. The study involved 30 Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) and will run until the end of the month. The preliminary results presented by Carlos de Los Llanos, managing director at Eco-Emballages, at IdentiPlast 2013, Plastics Europe’s conference on plastics recycling and recovery, included:

  • Collection of pots and trays (PTT) and films increased from 1.6kg per person per year to 2.8kg
  • MRF output that could be sold to recyclers was less than expected, only 1.6kg per person per year

De Los Llanos pointed out that most MRFs could not cope with the extended waste packaging stream and experienced decreasing yields and productivity and higher sorting costs per tonne. New capacities needed to be developed to separate polystyrene, PET and films for the extended collection system to be economically viable, he added.
Eco-Emballages will present a plan in March 2014 for a progressive implementation of the extended collection and sorting system in France.

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