Bodies clash over UK recycled plastic shortage solution

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Local government Recycling Bpf

Sharp differences have emerged between a plastics trade group and a local government body over how to solve the growing shortage of recycled plastics in the UK supply chain.

The British Plastics Federation (BPF) has flagged up fears over an ever-dwindling supply of usable waste plastic and challenged the wisdom of burgeoning used-material exports in the face of growing recyclate demand in the UK.

The trade body’s recycling group urged local government authorities to verify the final destination of their waste streams. Collectors should also be forced to compile data on end markets as a condition of all Material Reclamation Facility (MRF) contracts.

Group chairman Roger Baynham called on central government to tighten up rules on waste plastics exports – much of which goes to China.

But the Local Government Association (LGA) hit back and called on the BPF to join it in urging plastic manufacturers to produce higher quality material that was easier to recycle.

Clyde Loakes, the body’s Environment Board Vice Chairman, warned that introducing legislation curtailing councils’ right to find the best deals on global markets risked pushing up costs for local governments, which were already under intense financial pressure.

Losing credibility

The BPF recycling chief said demand for raw materials was increasing as the UK recovered from the global recession but that a lack of regulation on the export issue threatened to restrict the upswing. The situation was already “fraught”,​ he said.

Baynham added there were widespread fears over the quality of MRF outputs, with a conviction that recycling sites processed “waste more with an eye to volume for the global market than for quality​”. Such a practice has made the issue of high plastics exports more acute, he added.

"The plastic recycling industry must have access to more waste otherwise as a sector we risk losing credibility with our customers,”​ cautioned Baynham. “The tragedy is that this threatens to stall growth in recycling.....and so we call on government to take a lead by tightening up on exports to help create a truly sustainable domestic supply chain for plastics recycling.”

The recycling chairman said there was a role for exports but that lower Chinese landfill costs meant there was “too much temptation”​ for MRF operators to send low quality used plastics overseas.

Global markets

The LGA said it was working with Government to boost investment in plastic recycling infrastructure – but the solution was a long-term one.

Imposing restrictions on exports markets would hit the ability of local authorities to get value for money on behalf of residents, increase costs and make it more difficult to secure private sector partners.

“The UK has a significant interest in improving the quality of the recyclable materials entering the waste stream in the first place and we would welcome the BPF joining us in our call on manufacturers to ensure all packaging is of high enough quality to be readily recycled,”​ said Loakes.

Related topics Processing & Packaging

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