Monday, 04 December 2017 14:20

Let's win public confidence in recycling of plastic domestically

Adrian Griffiths, CEO of Recycling Technologies, feels strongly that plastics should and can be dealt with at home to solve ocean pollution. He writes....

plastic whale eating plastic WebWe are all aware that over 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the ocean each year and 84% of the general public are deeply concerned according to research by Sky's Ocean Rescue. Given the scale of the problem and the exponential growth of plastic demand, already topping 322mt globally, urgent action is needed to arrest the environmental damage and win the confidence of our stakeholders in recycling.

Consumers want to recycle more and, according to a recent survey by BillerudKorsnäs conducted in cities in Asia, Europe and USA, 72% are willing to pay more for products with sustainable benefits and easily recyclable packaging. UK businesses within the plastics value chain need to collaborate more to address solutions, meet the economic potential of consumers' willingness to act, as well as confronting the challenges posed by the imminent Chinese ban on waste imports.

plastic Adrian-Griffiths web copyIt is shocking that two thirds of the plastic waste that is collected for recycling in the UK is exported overseas and only one third is processed domestically (source Environment Agency). Once this material has been exported we have no control over what happens to it. It is alarming that the countries to which the majority of this material is sent are also the countries to whom the majority of plastic in the oceans is attributed! In July, China announced it would be imposing a ban on imports of certain kinds of solid waste, including plastics, from the end of the year due to pollution concerns. The challenge for the UK now is not to find alternative destinations but to build our own world class domestic recycling infrastructure and to maintain the confidence of all our stakeholders.

It will take a collaborative industry effort to do this with government having a particular responsibility to help reduce our reliance on overseas markets for waste plastic. It behoves policy makers to review Extended Producer Responsibility schemes, and remove incentives for exporting recycled materials. To further support recycling at home, a phased incentivisation to eliminate waste exports will drive investment into existing and new recycling technologies at home and create green sector jobs. Westminster need look no further than Wales and Scotland where Circular Economy Funds are dedicated to assisting SMEs in making the transformation towards a circular economy.

To achieve the proposed EU 55% plastic packaging recycling target by 2025 without the need for exporting, the UK needs to grow domestic recycling capacity for plastic packaging from 330,000 tonnes in 2016 to at least 1.2 million tonnes. This is a conservative number that assumes the 2.2 million tonnes of plastic packaging consumed in the UK does not grow further.
Infrastructure growth means improving collection systems, sorting and recycling for plastics. It also means expanding the materials that are collected for recycling. In the UK, high-value HDPE and PET plastic bottles are collected by almost all local authorities schemes. Some polymer and packaging types are considered 'unrecyclable' and comprise the lower-value plastic films, tubes, pouches and laminated plastics, destined for incineration and landfill.

plastic dumping plastic in landfillChemical recycling by companies such as Recycling Technologies address the challenge of these low value end-of-life plastics. From our Swindon base, Recycling Technologies has developed a modular chemical processing machine, the RT7000, to economically recycle all plastics into an oil we call Plaxx®. Plaxx is a crude oil equivalent capable of being distilled into a suite of materials from wax to naphtha, the latter replacing virgin material in new plastics production. Our aim is to scale up in the next 2- 3 years, and partner with waste site operators to process more of the available plastics.

In Scotland, the government's Circular Economy Investment Fund is already addressing the need to grow domestic recycling capacity. It is part-funding Recycling Technologies' installation of a full-scale commercial RT7000 at a waste management site in Perthshire next year. The RT7000 machine will recycle 7,000 tonnes of plastic per annum and produce 5,200 tonnes of Plaxx per annum.

At the same waste site in Scotland, a trial, called Project Beacon, is combining mechanical recycling processes with our RT7000 chemical approach in an Advanced Plastics Recycling Facility (APRF). The project's goal is to show APRF's ability to recycle an impressive 90% of all plastics it receives from C&I and household sources. This project heralds a new era for the UK's plastics value chain, meeting consumer demand to create genuine recycling at home and for exporting UK technology internationally.