Published On: Thu, Aug 11th, 2011

ECO Plastics Urges U.K. Agency to Boost Plastic Quality Levels

Company says reduction in quality of collected materials lowers sales value and could drive up landfill costs.

ECO Plastics, a plastic bottle recycling firm located in Hemswell, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom, says it has found that the deteriorating quality of plastics collected for recycling in the United Kingdom is costing local authorities £10 million ($16.3 million) each year because of the reduced sale value of the material.

In a statement released by the company, ECO Plastics expresses concern that local authority spending cuts could further reduce the quality of recycling collection and that, ultimately, councils could face a £20 million ($32.6 million) per year bill to landfill the poorest quality collected materials (which cannot be recycled).

ECO Plastics says as recently as 2008, a typical bale of collected plastics arriving at the company’s Hemswell recycling facility contained 95 percent plastic bottles. Today, the figure stands at 80 percent or less, meaning that local authorities are receiving £40 less for every metric ton of plastic they collect.

With the amount of plastic bottles collected growing each year (260,000 metric tons in 2010), council losses are expected to exceed £10 million in 2011.

ECO Plastics, which says it operates Europe’s most technically advanced plastic bottle recycling facility, is calling for the U.K. to “get back to basics” in a bid to improve the quality of collected plastics and help councils maximize the value of the secondary commodity.

“Plastic bottles are far and away the most valuable, highest quality plastic recyclate,” says Jonathan Short, ECO Plastics’ managing director. “Our plant can process 300,000 bottles an hour, but in recent years we have seen a significant drop in the bottle content of our baled raw material. The U.K.’s nascent recycling infrastructure is being made to work harder to reach the required level of quality, not least for use in food-grade recycled packaging. Local authorities are missing out on easy money at a time when every penny counts.

“[London mayor] Boris Johnson’s Recycle for London campaign estimates that London saved £30 million through recycling last year, with a target of doubling those savings this year,” Short continues. “This will not happen – for London or any other authority – unless recycling collections start to focus on quality.” To emphasize the scale of the problem, Short comments that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently revealed a 40 percent increase in the amount of recycled material sent to landfill in the past three years.

During the past year, bales of plastic arriving at the Hemswell facility contained an average of 8 percent non-recyclable plastic, with black plastic trays – which cannot currently be recycled cost effectively – the biggest offender, says Short. An increase in the number of councils offering a mixed plastics collection service is pointed to by ECO Plastics as the main source of the problem.

Short comments, “Black plastic trays were not evident in our recyclate three years ago – my concern is that the householder is placing trays in the recycling bin whilst bottles are being lost to landfill. The lack of consistent messaging about what can and cannot be recycled has given rise to this situation.

“The U.K. is developing a plastic recycling infrastructure that is the envy of Europe,” Short continues. “This is one of the advantages of having embraced recycling later than our European neighbors. Local authorities offering mixed plastics collections are at the front of the pack and this represents the way in which the industry must ultimately develop, but not just yet. The historic drive for quantity has to stop – we must first maximize the best quality, most valuable resource available to us – it’s time to get back to basics and ensure that all plastic bottles in the UK are saved from landfill,” he concludes.


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