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[GreenYes] Mixed plastic recycling "no longer a choice"

Mixed plastic recycling "no longer a choice"


Recycling mixed plastics is "not any longer a choice" but something that the UK must embrace, an Environment Agency official has claimed.

Speaking yesterday (September 29) at a mixed plastics recycling event hosted by London Remade, regulators and members of the plastic recycling sector outlined that the environmental benefits and impending loss of landfill space mean that local authorities must make the moves to adopt the recycling of mixed plastics.

The UK must tackle the 181,000 tonnes of mixed plastic in the country due to increased shortage of landfill

The UK must tackle the 181,000 tonnes of mixed plastic in the country due to increased shortage of landfill

Martin Brocklehurst, head of external programmes at the EA, said: "I do not believe that recycling mixed plastics is any longer a choice that we have."

With landfill space running out - particularly around London and the South East - members of the plastic recycling industry spoke of the environmental savings that could be made through the collection of mixed plastics, the provision of dedicated plastic sorting facilities and the establishment of sustainable end markets for the product.

Pointing out the growing cost of virgin material, Mr Brocklehurst drew attention to the fact that there were profitable, as well as environmental, benefits to be made from increasing the rates of mixed plastics recycled within the UK.

"Look at the commodity price markets, the price is going up and the fact that manhole covers are going missing in the streets of Sheffield tells you something; a whole range of materials are rising," he said.


Mixed plastic - defined as non-bottle domestic plastic packaging - has previously proven a difficulty for councils due to the problems posed in sorting the waste stream but industry experts claimed that the facilities to sort and reprocess mixed plastics were now becoming available in the UK.

Paul Davidson, special advisor on plastics to Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), said that the development of dedicated plastic recycling facilities - or PRFs - would improve quality and could be supplanted into existing supply chains.

Using the example of J & A Young's recently opened facility in Normanton, near Derby (see story), Mr Davidson said PRFs would also be used as a means of lessening the burden on MRFs, as well as allowing retailers and bring bank schemes to participate easily.

This follows WRAP's pledge in June to help to boost the market for mixed plastics, which included helping to fund a 40,000 tonnes capacity mixed plastic reprocessing plant. Mr Davidson explained that the 40,000 tonnes capacity was not a "random figure" but the largest project that they could put forward in the current economy likely to receive investment.

WRAP's approach to mixed plastic recycling had previously been criticised by members of the industry as overstating the ability of MRFs to sort commingled collections and seeming to favour source segregated collections (see story).

However, Mr Davidson said WRAP is now looking into the means of sorting plastics in existing MRFs through retrofitting technology to save the massive cost that can be incurred by the development of dedicated plastic facility. He also said the proposed system would be of benefit to both source segregated and commingled collections.

Following Mr Davidson, Rob Dvorak, project manager for consultancy company Nextek, explained that there had been advances in technology being used in MRFs and PRFs that meant that they could now contend with some of the problems posed by polymers traditionally difficult to sort by infrared, such as black trays for food.

Mr Dvorak also spoke of developments in the laser-based systems, such as UniSensor, which provide increased quality compared to the current Near Infrared (NIR) technology in terms of polymer detection ability.


Representing the sorting facilities, Nick Cliffe, marketing manager of London-based Closed Loop Recycling, explained that there was a growing infrastructure capable of sorting mixed plastics.

Pointing to Closed Loop's own Dagenham plant and the company's proposed plant in North Wales (see story), Mr Cliffe also cited the recent expansion work undertaken by AWS Ecoplastics in Lincolnshire and J & A Young and said the country would soon have the capacity to sort the 181,000 tonnes of mixed plastic produced annually in the UK.

Concluding his talk, Mr Cliffe was keen to emphasise the growing infrastructure and he said: "We are [only a few] years away from large scale recycling of mixed plastics."

Councillor Alexis Rowell, Chair of Camden Council's all-party Sustainability Task Force, raised concerns that the inclusion of an additional sorting facility to the existing supply chain - especially in the case of commingled collections which currently use a MRF - would be environmentally detrimental.

However, Mr Davidson rebuked this claim. He said that the overall benefits of recycling the material and using it ahead of labour-intensive virgin materials in plastic production far outweighed the added carbon emissions generated by adding another stage to supply chain.


Also speaking at the event, Paul Levett of Veolia Environmental Services said the current date for when landfill would be exhausted was closer than the date by which new facilities would be developed and councils would need to start planning now to meet landfill targets outlined for 2010 and 2013.

Mr Levett also said that local authorities could make it easier for residents to recycle mixed plastics with standardised rules for certain areas. Highlighting that 18% of Londoners move house ever year, Mr Levett asked for the issue of standardisation to be addressed as people moving into neighbouring boroughs were faced with being no longer able to recycle items that they had previously been able to.

Pointing to Joint Waste Authorities, Mr Levett saw combined efforts as being able to impose standardised rules for large areas, which would avoid confusion, lessen contamination and boost participation.

San Diego, California

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