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Plastics - 25 January

As we enter 2013, recovered plastic prices for all fractions have remained steady, with little or no changes observed.

Clear PET remained steady, with reprocessors offering between £240-£290 per tonne.Natural HDPE has remained at £150 per tonne. There has been no change in the price of mixed bottles, which have been up to £160 a tonne for high-quality mixed and around £85 for lower quality material.

The Chinese New Year is set for 10 February this year. Based on previous years, this could result in the prices of bottles falling temporarily in the next few weeks as many reprocessors in China close for the holiday period. This can mean that UK handlers restrict the amount of additional stock they are able to accept.

The year ahead is set to be interesting for plastics recycling because the UK has now entered a new five-year recycling target period, with business plastic packaging recycling increasing from 32% to 37%.

This relates to around 685,000 tonnes of plastic packaging to be recycled in 2013. At the time of writing, the final 2012 plastic tonnage recycled had not been announced and work is ongoing to evaluate total plastic packaging arisings.

The industry needs to address how to generate a greater collection rate in households while maintain-ing a high quality standard.

The consultation on the MRF code of practice is anticipated soon. Many believe that a mandatory code is necessary to improve the market for recovered plastics, allowing confident trading between MRF operators and reprocessors.

The most likely contributor to this required tonnage increase will be via increases in bottle and pot, tub and tray (PTT) collections from households. If this is the case, we must also have the infrastructure in place to handle the higher quantities.

Given that increasing numbers of councils now collect the PTT fraction, their service providers need to find suitable solutions.

Some are investing in additional sorting infra-structure, including Veolia’s recent announcement of a PRF in Rainham, Essex while others are opting for alternative second-life product solutions such as the Sita plastic-to-fuel facility plans with Cynar.

But given the expected increases in collected plastic packaging tonnages during the next five years, the issues of specification, quality and handling capacity are a priority for the UK.

Otherwise there is a high risk that increasing recycling rates will have a negative impact on the recovered plastic market in terms of value, confidence and reputation. The biggest danger will be that plastic is considered as a single material, whereas in reality different plastics generally need to be separated for recycling in the same way as paper, cans and glass are not sent to the same reprocessor.

To aid local authorities to deliver efficient and effective household plastic collections, it is also important for householder communications to be universal and consistent, to educate households which plastics are accepted for recycling and why. This will be a key initiative for Recoup in 2013.

Stuart Foster, Chief executive, Recoup

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