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UK’s first plastic bag recycling facility opens

Recycling company PlasRecycle has launched a dedicated plant to convert discarded shopping bags and plastic films into new products.

PlasRecycle raised £10.7m for the project based in Woolwich in south east London. It is the first of its kind in the country.

The company developed its own technology to process used polythene bags and packaging films into a plastic granulate that can be used to make new bags. The reprocessed plastic is currently being used to make refuse sacks, but PlasRecycle is also looking at developing recycled supermarket carrier bags from the pellets.

The plant will be fully operational later this year, when it will be able to process 20,000 tonnes of used plastic film a year sourced from waste companies and retailers. The project will create 32 jobs in the area.

The company built the plant after raising funds from investors including Foresight Environmental Fund, the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB), WRAP and private investors.

Speaking exclusively to MRW, PlasRecycle’s founder and chief executive Duncan Grierson (above, right) said: “There more than enough material out there for us to process and we think there’s a strong demand for the product as well.

“Our main client is very excited about taking our material and putting it into their refuse sacks. And their clients are all the main supermarkets – pretty much every major supermarket in the UK buys from this company.”

Company chairman Paul Levett (above, left) told MRW local authorities had shown interest in the potential of a “genuine closed loop” system. He added: “They also like the fact that it would improve their recycling performance because this waste is otherwise heading for landfill or incineration.

“Two major national waste companies have supplied us with material already, but obviously we are looking to widen our supply base.”

Mr Levett also denied that the introduction of a 5p carrier bag tax would be a problem as the facility was capable of processing both the thin single-use bags and thicker long-life bags.

The project has been applauded by a range of politicians and industry figures.

London mayor Boris Johnson, said: “This burgeoning new sector, supported through the LWARB and the Foresight Environmental fund is helping to save huge sums of money while supporting new jobs and growth, and reducing carbon emissions in the capital.”

Resources minister Lord de Mauley said: “This new recycling plant shows that dealing with waste and recycling properly is not only good for the environment but can boost economic growth and create jobs.

“There is a huge global market for waste and recycling and I want to see UK businesses leading the way on this and helping us compete in the global race.”

Barry Turner, chief executive of the Packaging and Films Association, said: “This will help to divert plastic material from landfill and provide recyclate from a UK source which will mean carbon savings. Plastic packaging keeps goods fresh for much longer and helps saves valuable resources.”

PlasRecycle’s chief executive Duncan Grierson and chairman Paul Levett speak to MRW

Duncan: I started the business in 2010. There’s already a few people doing plastic bottles, but there’s no-one in the UK focused on shopping bags and films, so it seemed like an interesting place to look.

We spent a lot of time looking at different technologies and processes, how you can take a product that is largely going to landfill or sometimes going to China and try keep that in the UK and back into the supply chain.

I spent about two years researching different technologies and doing lots of trials. We’ve basically developed our own proprietary process that can take this very mixed material and can turn it back into a useful product.

We chose London because there is access to good feedstock and access to good funding, including the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB). This is quite and innovative plant, we weren’t able to raise bank finance at this stage so we needed extra support and LWARB basically helped fill that gap.

Paul: Duncan and I were introduced by a mutual friend. With my background in closed loop recycling and having run materials recycing facilities (MRFs) I think there’s a good marriage. We’ve been working well together.

There are a number of advantages for a waste company because firstly they achieve a higher recycling rate, secondly they will save on landfill tax, thirdly they’ll improve operational efficiency if they pull the bags out at an early stage in the MRF - because bags in a MRF often get tangled around equipment and things like that – and fourthly, which I think is very important these days, is quality.

Some of these bags can find themselves getting mixed in with the paper or bottles in the output. If that reduces the quality of that material the waste companies get a lower price for it or risk problems of export.

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