Plastics companies lobbied Defra for lower recycling targets, a freedom of information request by Greenpeace has revealed.
Last year the department announced that targets for plastic recycling would be reduced from 57% to 49% for 2016 and then increased by 2% each year to 2020.
But the response of the British Plastics Federation (BPF) to Defra’s consultation on the changes, sent in December 2015, recommended lowering the targets further to 48% for 2016, rising by only 1% each year.
Greenpeace has published the BPF submission, which warned that higher targets would encourage quantity instead of quality.
It argued that the quality of feedstock contributed to the closures of processors Eco Plastics and Closed Loop Recycling, although the latter’s plant was reopened after being bought by Veolia.
The closures reduced the UK’s overall processing capacity, the BPF’s response said, meaning higher targets would be unachievable.
“By having targets which increase at a slower steady rate it is more likely to result in better quality, will allow further time for non-bottle markets to establish sustainable demand drivers and will allow time for UK recycling companies to invest and expand their businesses in order to meet the additional demand for reprocessing capacity,” the BPF argued.
Greenpeace drew comparisons with its recent complaint over Coca-Cola, criticism rejected by the company.
Oceans campaigner Ariana Densham said: “None of us should be surprised that the plastics industry is lobbying the Government to reduce recycling targets. It mirrors the approach, which we’ve seen exposed recently, of companies like Coca-Cola lobbying against the introduction of bottle deposit return schemes and increased recycling rates.
“Those profiting from throwaway plastics are abdicating responsibility for the end life of their products, while blaming consumers for their environmental impact on land and at sea.”
A BPF spokesperson said: “The targets set by government were higher than industry had advised government could be achieved with the inconsistent collection system of household waste we had in the UK.
”The plastics industry, which includes recyclers, wants to recycle a lot more plastic and have high targets, but in order to capture and reprocess more material the right infrastructure is needed and this requires time to develop properly.
“By having targets that increase at a steadier rate, the quality of recycling is likely to be higher, it allows time for a demand to be created for this new reprocessed material, and ensures that UK recycling companies have the time to invest and expand their businesses in order to meet the increased demand for their reprocessing services.
”The plastics industry will always support the highest realistic targets that allow for the maximum amount of quality recycling in the UK.”