Untapped Potential for More Household Plastic Collections

The UK Household Plastics Collection Survey outlines the collection of household plastics in the UK.

websiteA total of 499,625 tonnes were collected for recycling from UK households, consisting of 340,000 tonnes of plastic bottles and just under 160,000 tonnes of plastic pots, tubs and trays. This represents an overall increase of just over 1% from the previous year.

Author Steve Morgan commented: “RECOUP had hoped to report that more than half a million tonnes of plastic packaging was collected for recycling from UK households in 2015, but collection level increases have slowed”.

Collection quantities and service provision aside, the opportunities for increased collections are clear. The collection rate for plastic bottles is under 60%, with the rate for plastic pots, tubs and trays is 30%.
With most Local Authorities in the UK providing a collection service for plastic bottles, the number of new collection services for non-bottle material is also slowing down. It was reported 74% (290) Local Authorities in the UK collect plastic pots, tubs and trays and 20% (80) Local Authorities collect plastic film as part of their kerbside collection service.

The quantity and quality of the material from the collection systems needs support and funding, and with ongoing budget restrictions this could be harder to achieve. Tough questions continue to be asked as to whether Local Authorities can save more budget after several years of progressive cuts. Creating more efficiencies have to be prioritised to deliver core local services without reducing quality of service below acceptable levels.
Morgan commented: “The positive benefits of joint working appears a logical step to provide cost savings, practical benefits, and value for money – pooling resources, equipment, knowledge and expertise, ideally through centralised contract procurement all seem to hit the spot.”

In the 2015 Survey questions were asked about whether Local Authorities believed waste collection services were harmonised with other regions, with just 26% thinking their collection services were aligned with other Authorities. The 2016 Survey reports 52% of Local Authorities believed recycling collections were aligned with other authorities. The key target for improvement focusses on standardising the material collected, with 80% of these stating alignment of material or plastic types collected.

There have been many treatment techniques and technological advances in the waste and recycling sectors in recent years, which are increasingly providing opportunities to recover and use residual waste that would otherwise go to landfill. The 2016 Survey found there was a comprehensive knowledge of the treatment of residual waste collected by Local Authorities, with 97% stated they knew about the treatment of the waste.
Reported destination of residual waste – 34% to landfill, 34% to EfW, 16% to RDF and 16% to recycling. It was unsurprising that landfill and EfW were the highest destinations for residual waste. The recycling result in particular raises many questions, and RECOUP are interested in gaining an understanding about the end destinations of this material and how this fraction is reported.

A new EU circular economy package was announced in 2015, and It remains unclear whether this package will be agreed and adopted for the EU, let alone if the UK will adopt any package and how formal this agreement will be. The proposed EU target of 75% of packaging waste by 2030 and an overall plastics recycling target for 2025 of 55% presents significant challenges throughout the packaging supply and recycling sectors.
Plastic recycling in the UK is in transition. Company acquisitions, wider collection system reviews taking place including work on consistency, packaging itself under scrutiny, and a continued lack of investment in consumer education are all contributing factors. DEFRA recognised the need for additional time to install and improve the necessary infrastructure alongside changing recycling behaviours by extending the targets set from 2017 to 2020, and that now needs to happen.

The proposed EU targets represent a significant shift in Europe to develop sustainable, resource efficient, and circular economies. Many believe the UK has benefited on an environmental and waste basis from being in the EU and now there is a real opportunity for the UK to underpin the foundations which will allow plastic resource efficiency and recycling to grow for the next decade or more.

Morgan commented: “If a circular economy package is seen as a good idea, the UK and devolved governments need to ensure a robust strategy is not just implemented but also financially backed, and the decisions taken over the next year could have a big impact on the resource and sustainability ambitions for the UK for many years to come”.

The report is available at no cost on the RECOUP website.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.