New plastic packaging recycling targets set by the UK Government are unachievable and potentially counterproductive, leading industry bodies have said.
One body warned that imposing the target before the proper infrastructure was in place could doom it to failure and see recycling capacity transferred to Asia.
The British Plastics Federation (BPF) and the Packaging and Films Association (PAFA) have both challenged the government proposal to increase plastic packaging recycling to 56.9 per cent by 2020, warning that the unrealistic target could hinder rather than help green initiatives.
The BPF said it was fully committed to diverting plastic packaging away from landfill but that the 32 per cent increase tabled by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) was “not achievable in less than 10 years”.
“This would not be possible, even if there was a necessary huge investment in the recycling infrastructure and standardised local authority collection, sorting and recycling systems which we do not have”, said the body
It added that Germany, which had introduced an active plastics recycling scheme 15 years ago, had only achieved a 42 per cent recycling rate.
The BPF cautioned that the imposition of such a strategy could hit both companies and the environment.
“Such a high target risks pushing the UK into recycling which is uneconomic and has environmental disbenefits through heavy use of energy and water,” it said.
PAFA echoed many of these views, saying the Government was at risk of “setting unachievable plastic recycling targets before ensuring there is the infrastructure in place to make recycling more efficient in the UK”.
The body’s designate CEO Barry Turner accused the Government of failing to heed proposals set out by PAFA and other industry groups as it pointed out the new targets would be the highest in Europe.
“We have also actively sought ways of preventing contamination rates increasing even further. But our calls for joined-up thinking coupled with major investment in local collection infrastructure appear to have fallen on deaf ears with the announcement of a 56.9 per cent plastics recycling target by 2020,” he said.
A major obstacle to achieving the targets is the lack of a consistent collection and sorting system for recycled plastics among individual local authorities. This was a “crucial pre-requisite”, said Turner.
The mixed plastics films used in much retail packaging suffer high levels of contamination in the waste stream and they are the lowest priority for many recycling facilities, said PAFA.
“Whilst local authority recycling targets continue to be driven by weight, plastic as the lightest packaging material, will always be the last priority for council collection and sorting”, it said.
Setting targets without proper strategic thinking would “lead to a failure to move forward” and may lead to job losses as recycling work moves out to the UK to the Far East.