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Plastic recycling gap saw £44m lost, says Recoup

Some £44m was wasted by failing to recycle enough plastic bottles last year, Recoup’s annual UK Household Plastics Collection Survey has found.

This should spur investment as household collection rates needed to double by 2017 to meet targets, it said. The survey of all UK local authorities found “a compelling business case to collect plastics for recycling”.

Recoup estimated that the 42% of plastic bottles not collected for recycling cost more than £19m to dispose of, but would have attracted around £25m from reprocessors had they been collected and sold.

Markets for pots, tubs and trays were less certain, but disposal of that not collected for recycling cost between £45m and £55m.

Recoup identified 640,613 tonnes of plastics packaging collected for recycling in 2012, of which 440,401 tonnes came from households and the rest mainly from commercial and industrial sources.

But it said that by 2017, an estimated 1,213,000 tonnes of plastics packaging needed to be recycled to meet targets.

If the same split between household and other sources still applied then some 836,970 tonnes of plastics packaging would need to be collected from UK households - almost double the current level.

Some 50-70% of plastics collected in 2012 went for export, with the remainder staying in the UK for reprocessing, Recoup said.

But China’s ‘green fence’ policy – which restricts the import of unwashed plastics – had made outlets for lower grade plastics harder to find, driving pot, tub and tray prices to negative values and increasing disposal costs, Recoup said.

Dave Thomas, policy officer of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, which supports the survey, said: “There is a clear lack of investment from PRN monies in collections, both in terms of infrastructure but also increasing the quality of the material collected.”

Overall tonnages collected by scheme type

2012Plastic bottlesPots, tubs, traysTotal tonnes
Kerbside269,790116,071385,861
Bring46,2648,27654,540
Total316,054124,347440,401

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