UK packaging industry overestimates recycling rates according to Eunomia report

Written by: Editorial staff | Published:

The UK's packaging industry has overestimated the country's recycling rates, according to a new report published by waste consultancy Eunomia.

The report, Plastic Packaging: Shedding Light on the UK Data, argues that official figures overstate the quantity of plastic packaging sent for recycling by a third.

In 2015, UK households and businesses generated 2.26m tonnes of plastic packaging waste, according to official statistics.

However, Eunomia believe the figure is more likely to be around 3.5m tonnes as the data is based on incorrect measurements of waste.

Eunomia predicts the 39% recycling rate in 2015 is more likely to be between 23%-29%, meaning the UK failed to meet its plastic packaging recycling targets under the EU Waste Framework Directive from 2008-2012.

A key reason for this inaccuracy is down to the way recycling rates are calculated, according to Eunomia.

Under current rules, recycled packaging waste often includes moisture and other contaminants yet when material is reported as ‘placed on the market’ it is clean and dry, which Eunomia argues is where the measurement disparity comes from.

Another problem highlighted was official data was estimated from work conducted for Defra by the UK’s largest “compliance scheme”, Valpak, extrapolating from its own figures.

Eunomia’s report points out that the lower the figure for the packaging placed on the market, the lower the fees that producers have to pay into the “compliance schemes” through which most choose to discharge their legal obligations on recycling.

A lower figure also reduces the amount of material that needs to be recycled in order to meet the targets, keeping down the costs of compliance to industry.

Eunomia recommends that if unadjusted figures for what is placed on the market are used to measure waste generated, then the quantity recycled should reflect only what ends up in the final recycling process.

Dominic Hogg, Eunomia chairman, criticised the UK’s current compliance schemes.

He said: “The existing system of producer responsibility is failing. It has allowed problems with plastic packaging to grow, and in its most basic responsibility – demonstrating compliance with a target – the data cannot be trusted.”

Jakob Rindegren, ESA recycling policy advisor, said although the report is helpful, it is just another estimate.

He said: “Unsubstantiated claims about the average amount of contamination in exported plastics are unhelpful and don’t meet the objective of ensuring that the recycling debate is based on robust data.”

Valpak told BBC News: “The producer responsibility system was deliberately designed by government and industry to meet required recycling targets at minimum cost. It was not intended to cover all the costs (of recycling).”

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