Plastic processing bottleneck

There is a bottleneck in the UK’s recycling infrastructure for plastic recycling, according to the latest report from plastics resource efficiency and recycling charity RECOUP.

The 2022 UK Plastic Packaging Sorting & Reprocessing Infrastructure report found a shortfall in the required capacity at reprocessing facilities.

The group mapped the recycling facilities and researched the operational capacities in order to produce scenarios to compare the requirements for recycled plastic packaging against the UK’s ability to produce the material. These looked at benchmarks set by both the UK Plastic Packaging Tax and the situation where the UK’s material export markets were no longer an option. The UK currently relies heavily on these to achieve its recycling targets.

The report seemed to find that significant increases are required for reprocessing plastic packaging in the UK. This includes the need to increase the current recycling infrastructure by five times for household-like plastic packaging and nine times for food grade plastic packaging. Unless resolving this reprocessing bottleneck is given the necessary priority and investment, and ultimately, ownership, the UK will not be able to claim it has a world-leading recycling system.

“RECOUP believes it is imperative that adequate funding through the reform of the UK’s Packaging Producer Responsibility System goes to the right areas. The reprocessing infrastructure needs significant investment and support, particularly when these businesses are open to variable commercial conditions, such as increased energy costs and reduced material value.”

Steve Morgan, Head of Policy and Infrastructure at RECOUP, commented: “The future of the UK’s recycling solutions for plastic packaging is in its own hands, but I’m afraid we might let slip this perfect opportunity to channel appropriate funding into the high impact areas that could transform the UK’s infrastructure capabilities. Effective collection and material sorting to deliver high quality recycling outputs is essential, but we are at risk around not supporting the reprocessing sector. The capacity to produce the final raw materials to enable a circular economy to exist will just not be in place.”