The 2017 RECOUP Household Plastics Collection Survey, launched at the RECOUP plastics recycling conference, has highlighted the need to invest in kerbside recycling collections infrastructure and communications.
The RECOUP survey can report for the first time that the milestone of collecting half a million tonnes of plastics packaging from UK households has been achieved. The 512,475 tonnes collected for recycling in 2016 consisted of over 340,000 tonnes of plastic bottles and nearly 170,000 tonnes of plastic pots, tubs and trays.
Just 5 Local Authorities in the UK now do not provide a collection service that includes plastic bottles as part of their kerbside collection service and 76% (298) of Local Authorities in the UK collects plastic pots, tubs and trays.
Although the collection data represents great progress over the last 20 years, it doesn’t tell the whole story. The increase in collection of plastics bottles from UK household represents an increase of less than 1% from the previous year. New collection schemes are also slowing down, with only 7 new kerbside schemes in 2016 reporting that they introduced the collection of plastic pots, tubs and trays.
The opportunities for increased collections of plastic packaging are clear. In the UK the RECOUP Survey reports a collection rate in 2016 for all types of plastic bottles of 58%, with a 32% rate for plastic pots, tubs and trays.
Local Authority and waste management providers should be applauded for their efforts, but Local Authority budgets continue to be squeezed. The RECOUP Survey confirms, that from nearly 160 responses, 51% of Local Authorities in the UK received budget cuts for providing waste and recycling collections or delivery of communications to householders about waste and recycling. This represents a significant change to the results when the same question was asked the previous year – when just 13% reported budget cuts.
In terms of legislation, the role of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and ambitions for the future the next 2-3 years provides a window of opportunity for the UK.
Consistency in materials collected for recycling, how they are presented for recycling and a long-term investment programme in consumer communications need to be central to building household recycling in the future. If the UK is serious about increasing recycling rates it needs a strong strategy and delivery plan that is also financially backed.
Need for Communications
There is an increased demand to engage and communicate with householders by running plastics recycling communication campaigns. However, this is one of the first areas to suffer from budget restrictions.
With contamination increasingly having major detrimental effects to both treat and sell recovered materials, Local Authorities report they are focussing communications equally on two important fronts – increasing collection rates and reducing contamination.
As the UK moves towards Brexit, one legislative option is that the UK generates a producer fund which would be responsible for the delivery of national communications to raise awareness of recycling and increase participation, and would support Local Authority campaigns at a local level.
The national plastics recycling communications initiative Pledge 4 Plastics continues to provide resources to deliver plastics recycling communications. These resources were funded by RECOUP members and are available for FREE through the Pledge 4 Plastics Resource Library.
There are over 100 Local Authorities who would like to work in partnership to deliver a match funded Pledge 4 Plastics communications campaign, but at present there remains no central or dedicated budget to develop new resources or deliver plastics recycling communications.
RECOUP Technical Manager, Steve Morgan stated “Making kerbside systems as good as they can be will inevitably lead to higher household plastic collection levels. Consumer communication particularly needs financial backing. The question is, over the next 2-3 years, is there the funding and real desire to carry this forward?”
The Collection Rate Debate – Apples and Oranges
With the ongoing debate about how to increase the collection rate for plastic bottles and a potential role for Deposit Return Schemes (DRS), comparing the UK’s plastic bottle collection rate with other countries is not comparing ‘like-for-like’ data, and has been likened to comparing ‘apples and oranges’.
Other EU countries report they have a 90%+ household drinks bottle or PET plastic bottle collection rate by using a deposit return (DRS) scheme. However, there are different and unique challenges for each country depending on the level of kerbside collection infrastructure in place and regional geographical and demographical characteristics of where a DRS scheme is used.
Where high collection rates exist for plastic drinks bottles there is generally a lower overall collection rate for plastic packaging, with far lower or no recycling rates for non-drinks bottles and plastic pots, tubs and trays. Valpak recently published data that reports a 74% collection rate for drinks bottles consumed in the household stream in the UK, and this provides evidence that any future direction of improving plastics packaging collection rates needs careful cost-benefit analysis.
Download for FREE
The 2017 RECOUP Survey is now available to download FREE of charge from the RECOUP website.