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Warning on shrinking markets for black plastics

One of the UK’s main producers of polythene products has expressed concerns over shrinking demand for black recycled pellets.

Mike Baxter

Mike Baxter, external affairs director at BPI, told MRW that reprocessors of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) were operating under increasingly difficult conditions.

“This is especially true for the coloured materials, which need to be made black. But the markets for black recycled LDPE are reducing at the same time as the availability is increasing [because we collect more waste plastics].”

One of the traditional end markets for black LDPE, also known as ‘jazz’, is the manufacture of black sacks used by local authorities for waste collections.

But a rising number of councils are opting for cheaper thinner bags, whose specifications require the use of different polymers, according to Baxter.

“Councils are moving from 20 micron recycled LDPE to 10 or 12 micron of what’s called bimodal HPDE,” he said

Andrew Bird, chair of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, told MRW that the organisation was not aware of the trend but, in light of budget cuts, councils would be likely to implement cost saving measures.

Another concern for plastics recyclers is the potential increase in the use of oxo-biodegradable material, according to Baxter. Such plastics contain an additive that increases the rate of degradation in the open environment when exposed to UV rays.

He said that if oxo-biodegradable plastics become more widespread in the UK, some buyers in the construction industry such as producers of damp-proof membrane films would stop using recycled polymers.

“If they feel there is any risk of oxo-biodegradable getting into the waste stream and then getting into the black film that we manufacture, they will alter the specifications and say the films must be made out of prime, virgin materials.”

Baxter argued this would be most likely if Defra included an exemption for biodegradable bags in the plastics carriers levy that is set to be introduced in October 2015.

The oxo-biodegradable association maintains their products do not contaminate the waste stream. It cited the result of a study conducted by the South African Roediger laboratories, which concluded “plastic products made with oxo-biodegradable technology may be recycled without any significant detriment to the newly formed recycled product.”

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