BPF Releases ‘Recycling Roadmap’ to Reduce Waste Exports

A new report released by the British Plastics Federation (BPF) highlights what the UK needs to achieve if it is to drastically reduce its reliance on exporting plastic waste for recycling.

The British Plastics Federation (BPF) has released a roadmap showing how the UK recycling industry could expand over the next ten years, more than tripling the amount of plastic waste recycled in UK facilities, if the right drivers are in place.

Featuring a foreword by Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Rebecca Pow MP, the BPF’s Recycling Roadmap highlights what the UK needs to achieve if it is to drastically reduce its reliance on exporting plastic waste for recycling and to reduce the amount of plastic going into landfill to 1% by 2030.

The report projects that exports of plastic waste could more than halve and the UK could eliminate reliance on low-quality exports within the next decade. The Recycling Roadmap has been welcomed by industry experts and MPs, with Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defra, Rebecca Pow, stating in the foreword:

“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 proposals from the strategy.”

BPF Roadmap Shows Way To Massively Reduce Plastic Waste Exports by 2030

  • With the right drivers in place, plastic recycled within UK facilities could increase 3.5 times by the year 2030.
  • The UK could eliminate reliance on low-quality exports of plastic waste in the next ten years and could more than halve the amount of plastic waste being exported.
  • Plastic waste ending up in landfill sites could reduce to only 1%, representing a 94% reduction.
  • The amount of waste plastic processed by newer recycling technologies such as chemical recycling could grow 60 times.
  • The UK could recycle up to 65% of all plastic and 75% of plastic packaging by 2030.

In addition to investment in UK recycling systems, the report calls for there to be the same plastic waste collection schemes across all local authorities, the kerbside 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.

Key Change Drivers

New technologies will also need to expand the report suggests, estimating that if chemical recycling and other new recycling methods are proven to work at scale, the amount of material processed this way could increase by sixty times. This would mean newer recycling technologies would be able to process three hundred kilotonnes of plastic waste per year by 2030 (up from 5 kilotonnes currently), including currently hard-to-recycle plastics. The roadmap includes a list of companies using advanced, non-mechanical recycling technologies that have or are planning to establish capacity in the UK.

The document also clarifies that to significantly increase domestic recycling capacity, recycling rates need to 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 report calls for specific product recycling schemes to be set up for products not currently collected at kerbside.

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. Most importantly, there needs to be significant investment in increasing UK recycling capacity.

“Data within the report shows that the amount of overall plastic being recycled has grown by 150% since 2006. Over the same period, plastic going into landfill has reduced by 70%, so the UK has a track record of progress to build upon.”

The Recycling Roadmap acknowledges that the recycling industry has been adversely affected by COVID-19, with some facilities running at reduced capacities. However, with the global market for plastic recycling expected to grow to £31 billion by 2025, the BPF report highlights that there is an opportunity for great growth in the recycling sector in the UK in the years ahead.

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

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