A Sky News programme which highlighted how waste plastic exported from the UK to China is often too contaminated to recycle once overseas has been welcomed by a plastic industry group.
The Dirty Business documentary showed that UK businesses can receive subsidies under the packaging recovery note (PRN) system if they ship their plastic abroad, even if it is not then recycled but ends up in landfill due high levels of contaminates.
Roger Baynham, chairman of the British Plastics Federation Recycling Group (BPFRG), said in a statement that the programme reinforced a view expressed by the group for a number of years: the UK is over-reliant on exporting materials for recycling.
He added: “We hope that increased recognition of this issue will accelerate change so that more end-of-life plastic is reprocessed within the UK, positively contributing to our economy.
”We hope that Sky highlighting these issues will result in enhanced co-operation with Defra, supporting local jobs, while helping to achieve a truly circular economy for plastics.”
The BPFRG wants to see a focus on driving up the quality rather than quantity of material to ensure there are end markets. It has proposed a regime of standards for feedstock, providing an advantage to businesses that are working to reduce contamination.
The group has also suggested that changes be made to the current PRN system to increase reprocessing within the UK by including split plastic packaging recycling targets for domestic and export processing.
Another idea is to incentivise companies to use recycled content is to allow them to offset their producer responsibility obligations if they do so.
In response to the programme, Jessica Baker, managing director of UK reprocessor Chase Plastics, said: “It is high time the dark side of the PRN system was exposed. It has promoted the low-quality export of plastics waste at the expense of high-quality reprocessing here for far too long.
”The weight-based, target-driven PRN system has all but turned the recycling bin into another ‘rubbish’ bin, with the ‘unrecyclable’ element counting towards our recycling target via the export PERN.
“Rather than urgently trying to seek alternative overseas markets, which are ill-equipped to process our mix, we should address the real issues of what is being collected for recycling and how it is being collected.
”We should start to look at what actions are required to reprocess our plastics, under our own guardianship, here within our shores. The current PRN totally undermines this initiative and so needs urgent and radical reform.”
Mary Creagh, Labour chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, told Sky News that “people have woken up to the fact that the market that’s been created over the past 20 years privileges exporting that plastic over reprocessing it and recycling it here at home.
”People realise now we are exporting jobs and we are basically getting rid of our plastic problem and dumping it on someone else – and that is no longer acceptable.”