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Supply chain urged not to go back on recycled plastic commitment

The Resource Association (RA) has called on signatories to the Dairy Roadmap and Courtauld Commitment to stop switching to virgin polymers for plastic packaging, especially milk bottles.

In a hard-hitting response to a meeting of stakeholders hosted by Defra on 18 March, chief executive Ray Georgeson said: “Warm words are not enough.”

The meeting of representatives from waste, resources and plastics industry associations, the retail sector, major brand owners and WRAP was called to discuss the parlous state of the market, which has seen virgin polymer prices fall 30% as the oil price drops. rHDPE is typically set at 90% of virgin prices or above so reprocessors are having to take a substantial cut in the price for their products.

The RA’s intervention followed a news release from Defra in which resource minister Dan Rogerson called for renewed support for the voluntary agreements that have boosted the collection and recycling of plastic packaging by seeking minimum recycled content in plastic packaging.

Under the dairy initiative, for example, the industry has hit a 30% rHDPE content and is aiming for 50% by 2020.

Georgeson said that Rogerson’s intervention was “timely and necessary”. He thanked him for drawing attention to the problems that reprocessors were facing as a result of the low oil prices and some parts of the supply chain switching back to virgin polymer. But he wanted more from Whitehall.

“The meeting heard many general messages of support for the continued use of recycled content. However, these were not backed by specifics in the meeting and frankly, warm words are not enough,” he said.

“More is needed than merely a general statement of intent – it needs an urgent switch back to specifying rHDPE with immediate effect.”

Georgeson said reprocessors were the most vulnerable part of the supply chain, and were carrying the cost burden and most of the risk.

“If we lose [recycling infrastructure], not only will it be a hole under the waterline for the voluntary approach taken by WRAP, the Government and the industry, but it will make all the warm words about sustainability and the circular economy sound very hollow.”

He argued that bottlers, dairies and supermarkets had already benefitted from “huge cost savings” from the reduced cost of virgin polymer, so paying an extra 0.1p on the cost of a milk bottle was not a high price to pay for the sustainability of the UK rHDPE recycling infrastructure.

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