It has been heartening to see the interest from outside the waste industry on the plight of our plastic recyclers. The fall in oil price in the past six months or so has had an increasingly crippling effect on companies, and we have already lost enterprising companies such as R3 Plastics in Sheffield.
More recently things have come to a head for those working in the milk bottle supply chain such as Closed Loop Recycling (CLR) and Biffa Polymers. A meeting of stakeholders at Defra raised the prospect of supermarkets and dairy companies switching back to virgin HDPE at the very time they are about to hit the voluntary 2015 target for rHDPE. All that is needed to keep up the momentum, said the Resource Association, is an extra 0.1p per two-pint bottle made with rHDPE.
To their credit, bottle blowers such as Nampak have taken a hit to help their reprocessors because they know that, if a plant closes, it cannot easily pop back up.
Supermarkets can claim with some justification that the market is not very good for them either. After all, there have been profit warnings and they are all fighting to retain share. The problem is that one of their ‘weapons’ in the price war is milk, which is already being sold at virtually giveaway prices, so it is not easy to add to their costs unilaterally just to back CLR and Biffa Polymers - however worthy the cause.
But they have had several years of basking in the glow of their corporate social responsibility. Friends of the Earth have a point in noting that, now the agreement has been tested, they have been found wanting.
Supermarkets and other retailers who signed up for the Dairy Roadmap are close to achieving the initial target, but what chance is there of 50% rHDPE by 2020? It is time that ministers, both now and in the next Government, say they will intervene if companies continue to go back on their commitments.
We’ll have more on this sorry saga on the website in the coming weeks and in our next issue of MRW.