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'Recycling Roadmap' sets course to improve plastics recycling in UK

The report from the British Plastics Federation compiles currently available data on recycling and projects what the U.K. recycling industry could achieve over the next decade.

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January 13, 2021

The British Plastics Federation (BPF), London, has released its “Recycling Roadmap” report, which compiles currently available data on recycling and projects what the U.K. recycling industry could achieve over the next decade if the proper drivers were put in place.

Featuring a foreword by Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Rebecca Pow, the “Recycling Roadmap” illustrates the steps needed for the U.K. to reduce its reliance on exporting plastic scrap for recycling and the amount of plastic going into landfill by 2030.

According to the report, with the correct drivers, plastic recycled within U.K. facilities could increase 3.5 times by the year 2030, allowing the U.K. to reduce exports of plastic scrap by half. Plastic waste ending up in landfills could be reduced to 1 percent, representing a 94 percent reduction, according to the BPF, while the amount of plastic scrap processed by newer recycling technologies, such as chemical recycling, could grow 60 times.

In the foreword, Pow writes: “The 2030 British Plastics Federation’s vision sets out a clear pathway for progress, including an increase in recycling rates, minimal reliance on landfill and no exports of low-quality material. I am pleased to say this vision aligns with the government’s own Resources and Waste Strategy. Our Environment Bill will enable us to significantly change the way we manage our waste and take forward a number of the proposals from the strategy.”

In addition to investment in U.K. recycling programs, the report calls for local authorities to have the same plastic waste collection schemes, the curbside collection of plastic film, increases in the use of recycled material in new products and better communication to the public about what can be recycled. In total, 16 key changes are required, the BPF notes.

New technologies also must be expanded, the report suggests, estimating that if chemical recycling and other new methods are proven to work at scale, the amount of material they process could increase by 60 times. This would mean newer recycling technologies would be able to process 300,000 metric tons of plastic scrap per year by 2030 (up from 5,000 metric tons currently), including currently hard-to-recycle plastics. The roadmap includes a list of companies using nonmechanical recycling technologies that have or are planning to establish capacity in the U.K.

The document also notes that to significantly increase domestic recycling capacity, recycling rates must increase for a range of plastic products, not just packaging. The construction, automotive, electrical and electronics, household, sports and leisure and agriculture sectors represent a higher amount of plastic use in total than packaging and more needs to be collected and recycled, the federation says. The report calls for specific product recycling schemes to be set up for products not currently collected curbside.

Philip Law, director general of the BPF, states, “The BPF “Recycling Roadmap” shows that with the right collaborative effort, we have the potential to be a leading light when it comes to rapidly developing the technology and infrastructure to recycle far more plastic.

“Drastically reducing our reliance on exporting plastic waste for recycling and the amount of plastic waste going to landfill is achievable and this roadmap shows how," he continues. "Most importantly, there needs to be significant investment in increasing U.K. recycling capacity.”

Data within the report show that the amount of overall plastic being recycled has grown by 150 percent since 2006. Over the same period, plastic going into landfill has reduced by 70 percent, so the U.K. has a track record of progress to build upon, BPF says.

The report can be viewed or downloaded for free at http://bpf.co.uk/roadmap.