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Fundamental shift required for plastics

The recently published incremental plastic packaging recycling target is going to require a fundamental alteration to the vast majority of the UK current processing infrastructure. Currently there are around 2.5 million tonnes of plastic in circulation with a predicted 2013 recycling rate of 37%. The new targets would see this increase to 57% by 2017 with a need for collections and processing to handle an extra 500,000 tonnes.

As the majority of the post consumer material already collected is from the main stream bottle and film sectors, to achieve the required targets we will have to move lower down the collection chain to pots, tubs and trays (PPT) as a major source of tonnage.

Although the collection can be readily achieved through the commingled route it will be less easily achieved through the source separated route as the additional bulk density will most likely require additional collection resource and storage space at the kerbside.

The real issue comes with the processing of the additional plastic streams through the MRF route. Put quite simply, most facilities just will not have the physical space to either incorporate additional sorting lines and or add additional bunkering to house the sorted materials prior to bailing.

What will happen in reality is that we will see the development of a series of plastics processing centres that will take a single grade of PTTs in a baled form from a wide variety of MRFs.

There is also a very real risk here of opening the floodgates to the collection of all plastics from the kerbside which would potentially have an enormous detrimental effect on the UK recycling infrastructure.

When this was tried in Germany in the early 1990’s through the DSD (German Packaging Collection System) all that happened was that a wide variety of materials were recovered that had no home at all. I have personally seen hundreds of tonnes of baled sweet wrappers and baled composite plastics going to energy recovery.

Whilst we will always welcome additional and enhanced recycling targets, the severity in the leap in plastics collection will need managing in a controlled fashion. There will need to be investment in infrastructure and let’s hope that for the first time we do this from the reprocessing end first rather than from the collection end which has been the historical norm.

Paul Dumbleton, regional development manager, FCC Environment

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