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UK increases plastics packaging recycling rate by 14% on 2009

Levels of plastic packaging recycled in the UK increased 14% on 2008 figures, according to the Waste & Resources Action Programme’s (WRAP) Plastics MarketSituation Report.

An estimated 900,000 tonnes of plastics were recovered for recycling in 2009, of which 540,000 tonnes was plastic packaging – an increase of 14% on the previous year’s figures and 23% up on 2007.

The substantial increases are thought to come from increased levels of separate plastic bottle collection rounds from local authorities. According to WRAP figures, 79% of local authorities (279) now offer such a service and 90% of all plastic packaging collected is plastic bottles.

But despite the increased volumes of plastic sent for recycling, WRAP’s report found that the figures equate to a recycling rate of “less than 25%”. The low recycling rate is thought to come from a lack of suitable infrastructure which has, until now, focused on plastic bottles sorting and reprocessing instead of mixed plastic packaging.

The report said: “To date, there has been less investment in domestic capacity to recover and recycle mixed plastic packaging. A key barrier has been a lack of capacity to sort mixed plastics into separate polymer streams which, in turn, reflects the difficulty of competing with low-cost manual sorting in the Far East. As a result, most of the mixed plastics collected are exported for reprocessing.”

According to the report, levels of recovered plastics sent to China for reprocessing have jumped 163,000 tonnes in two years, from 548,000 tonnes in 2007 to 711,000 tonnes in 2009.

WRAP director of market development Marcus Gover said: “There has been extensive investment in UK plastics reprocessing capacity, but the UK still exports a large proportion of the plastics it collects for recycling. Given the strong UK demand for high-quality recycled plastics, this represents a great opportunity for UK manufacturers to exploit this green niche.”

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