The Resources and Waste Strategy should lead to greater uptake of recycled plastic by manufacturers, but questions remain over what is defined by recycled content.
This is the view of UK plastics recycler Vanden, which operates its own facility in Peterborough.
The Resources and Waste Strategy confirms the Budget announcement that packaging that does not meet a minimum 30% recycled content will be subject to a tax. This will be implemented from April 2022, subject to consultation.
Vanden UK managing director David Wilson said: “Clearly, we welcome the plans to increase the amount of recycled content in packaging to a minimum of 30% by 2022.
“However, we believe that we need to define what is exactly recycled content first. For example, will recycled content be defined purely from the amount of post-consumer waste it contains, or will post-production scrap that has been reintegrated into the manufacturing process be considered recycled content? We have asked this question of government agencies and nobody seems to know the answer at present.
“The benefit of using this material is that it is available now and can be integrated quickly and effectively to ensure more recycled content in packaging.
“There also needs to be consideration that some markets for recycled plastics are higher than the virgin material. Take rPET, for example, that currently has a premium price over virgin because companies have taken the moral step that their customers want more recycled content in the packaging. Often these are already using more than 30% recycled content anyway and therefore need more supply of material, requiring more investment in recycling capacity.
“But markets such as recycled LDPE film will need an extra stimulus because there is need for more demand for this material. In this market, we don’t necessarily need the investment in recycling capacity, but need to stimulate demand for what is currently produced. Different approaches will be necessary for different recycled polymers.
“Interestingly, the Strategy suggests that all plastic packaging will need 30% recycled content by 2022. What will this mean for multi-use plastic packaging such as pallets or containers? There will need to be a mechanism to ensure that perfectly good multi-use packaging that is capable of being reused isn’t taken from its current use to be recycled to meet this 30% content requirement.
“We are also really interested in the compulsory electronic tracking of waste. Not only will this crack down on illegal waste shipments, it will also reduce the bureaucracy and form filling involved in moving material if it can be made to work successfully. It has the potential to also make supply chains work more efficiently by being able to track exactly where your material is at any given point.”
Vanden also welcomed the emphasis on Extended Producer Responsibility but would like to see more detail on what this will mean for the PRN/PERN market.
David Wilson added: “With the PRN/PERN price for plastic currently hovering around £100 per tonne, it could be said that the PRN/PERN market is doing its job. Producers are effectively already making a significant contribution to the net costs of collection and recycling at that level.
“While the market mechanism works, it needs to be better policed as there is a lot of trust involved in the system at present, and this leaves room for unscrupulous operators to exploit the system.”
Overall, Vanden believes that the Resources and Waste Strategy is a positive for the recycling system.
David Wilson said: “We need to paint a positive picture of recycling. Simple steps such as introducing consistent collections and labelling will make it easier for people to recycle. That has got to be a good thing.”