Driving the UK market for recycled plastics

Written by: Recycling Waste World | Published:

In August, the British Plastic Federation Recycling Group launched a manifesto setting out proposals to reform the PRN/PERN system for plastics, increase the use of recycled plastics in UK manufacturing and encourage investment in recycling infrastructure. Three industry experts share their views on the manifesto.

Jonathan Short, founder & deputy chairman, ECO Plastics

We are still losing out to the Far East when it comes to recycling. Every year, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of plastic material is baled and shipped across the oceans, taking with it a much desired item in the recycling world - the humble plastic bottle.

As the highest value material in the post-consumer plastics family, bottles provide British reprocessors like ECO Plastics with an essential revenue stream used to invest in new infrastructure, capable of processing other types of post-consumer plastic resource. 

Plastic bottles represent the foundation for a modern, self-sufficient recycling industry that is at the heart of a circular economy.

The key challenge therefore is not only to collect more of this material, but actually to recycle more here at home. It’s all very well having targets, but to ensure we’re maximising the value reaped from our resource the government needs to reform its recycling incentives policy, the Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) and Packaging Export Recovery Note (PERN) regime, which continues to favour exports over domestic recycling due to the archaic weight-based system we employ. 

As a member of BPFRG, we fully support its recent manifesto outlining key recommendations to drive the market for recycled plastics here in the UK. Among the proposed changes are split targets which prioritise the purchase of PRNs over PERNs. 

This concept is fundamental to channelling investment back into the UK. Obligated packaging producers would be required to buy a fixed percentage of PRNs ahead of PERNs, which would not only increase the value of PRNs but also provide visibility around how the revenue is being spent domestically. 

It’s no use creating this ‘push’ for domestic recovery without a market ‘pull’, which is why split targets go hand-in-hand with another recommendation in the BPFRG manifesto called the ‘offset’ principle. 

This mechanism would allow obligated packaging producers to offset their PRN requirement if they use recycled polymer in their products. For example, a company which produces 5,000 tonnes of material using recycled polymer could subtract that amount from their PRN obligation. 

This would not only boost the market for recycled material, but also help shatter the misleading stigma that surrounds this recycled plastic as more and more companies opt to stem their reliance on virgin materials. 

For example, our Continuum joint venture with Coca Cola Enterprises demonstrates that the highest quality rPET is available for even the most stringent food grade standards. 

The original PRN/PERN regime was devised as part of the wider producer responsibility legislation which requires producers of packaging to pay their share towards the recovery of their material. 

As global markets evolved and international trade links improved, this system has become outdated and no longer fulfils this purpose since it is inadvertently skewed towards exports and puts homegrown reprocessors at a commercial disadvantage. This needs to be addressed if we are to develop a solid and sustainable recycling industry, not susceptible to market fluctuations abroad and capable of attracting some much-needed investment. 

Steve Almond, UK Sales, TOMRA Sorting

The goals and drivers of the BPFRG’s manifesto very much mirror those of TOMRA Sorting as, at its core, the manifesto is driven by the need to recover more material. 

As a technology provider to the UK’s waste managem

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