Recycling is a dynamic industry, with technologies being developed that create the potential for an even wider range of plastics to be recycled. But some key issues need to be resolved to enable the industry to reach its potential and to help reduce resource use. In addition, plastic recycling offers one of the key solutions to the global marine litter issue and therefore it needs to maximised.
A fundamental part to recycling any material is ensuring that there are end markets for the recycled plastic. This means convincing manufacturers to include recycled content.
The BPF Recycling Group’s latest strategy document called for public bodies and large companies’ procurement policies to include the use of recycled content as a driver.
Another potential driver is using extended producer responsibility (EPR) obligations so that businesses take a strong lead on including recycled content.
Some of the barriers to recycling certain products are a result of the design of products. Some designs, although not easy to recycle, are chosen for other environmental benefits such as reducing food waste, but others do not have such advantages and therefore need to be altered.
Quality of material is an issue also noted in other material sectors. The confusion of householders or methods of collection lead to there being high levels of non-target material.
This reduces the yield of material that recyclers are able to reprocess and, as well as needing expensive and time-consuming sorting. Standards for plastic waste feedstock would help to address this.
In a circular economy, material collected for recycling should, when possible, be recycled in the UK and then put back into products manufactured here. It would mean resources are preserved and materials prevented from being transported around the world. It would also help to grow UK jobs and industry.
Dealing with these issues would allow the industry to naturally grow and innovate. Fundamentally, this would then help recycling rates to grow further.
Helen Jordan is sustainability issues executive at British Plastics Federation (BPF)