Muddled UK policy on plastic recycling doomed to fail, says PAFA

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Recycling, Government, Plastic

Uk policy on plastics
Packaging players are likely to think twice before engaging with UK authorities again after the Government failed to wait for industry feedback and prematurely rolled out confused and flawed measures aimed at reducing the amount of plastic ending up in landfill, said a leading trade body.

The UK’s Packaging and Films Association (PAFA) has slammed the Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for hastily publishing recycling targets prior to receiving the conclusions from a committee of packaging industry experts that included a range of other proposals that they believed would cut the amount of plastic going landfill.

Barry Turner, the group’s chief executive, said the ill-thought out policy on packaging recycling targets were doomed to failure and that many of the proposals tabled by the leading sector players had been ignored.

Last year, Defra said that 42% of all plastics should be recycled by 2017 – a controversial target that is not only unrealistic but will actually fail to achieve the key aim in slashing the amount of plastic that goes to landfill.

“In spite of all our efforts it was very disappointing to see Defra rush through a proposal that totally failed to address the key goal of diversion of plastics from landfill and instead just focused on setting a recycling target,”​ said Turner.

He added that the “most frustrating”​ element was Defra pushed on with publication before the industry taskforce - the Advisory Committee on Packaging - had delivered its opinions.

“I am not alone in being amazed that any government department can on the one hand require representatives of the entire supply and recovery chain - from raw materials and conversion through retail, local councils and the waste management/reprocessing industry - to give up their valuable time to attend meetings over a twelve month period and contribute in good faith to a process which is then bypassed before their efforts are scheduled to be completed and reported,”​ fumed the PAFA chief executive.

Turner warned: “This will make industry very wary of engaging with this department of government in the future.”

Government policy muddled

PAFA also raised concerns about the incomplete nature of the Government proposals. It pointed out that Defra’s plan highlighted the 42% recycling target but was silent over how it planned to tackle the remaining 58%.

“I can only conclude that this government - unlike Scotland and Wales who have set clear targets in relation to diversion from landfill - is not at all concerned that a valuable resource like plastics will continue to be sent to landfill beyond 2017,”​ said Turner.  “All this when industry itself is calling long and hard for moves which would beneficially recover the enormous resource value in plastics.  This indicates that, in England, waste policy lacks any joined up thinking and is in complete muddle.”

Crucial to achieving the recycling target will be a massive boost in collection of plastic pots, tubs, trays and film and bottles. The trade body is skeptical that this is achievable as the infrastructure is not universally in place and that no plastic-material specific targets exist at a local level

The lack of targets and the lightweight nature of plastics likely means local councils will continue to focus on the heavier materials to meet their overall target, said PAFA.

The plastics industry wanted to implement a full overhaul over a 10-year period to “avoid potential chaos”,​ said Turner, who added the Government now appeared to want to truncate this into half this time.

Doomed to fail

PAFA said recent research from WRAP also highlight the flawed thinking behind placing the emphasis on recycling. The data showed that 95% of carbon reduction improvements recorded by retailers came from resource reduction and less than 5% from recycled content.

Turner described the trend as “logical”​ since resource reductions translated into cost savings whereas increasing recycled content often results in cost increases.

While he acknowledged that some important measures - such as enforcement of trans-frontier shipment regulations and reviewing the way the PRN system works – were being reviewed, others were being ignored.

He concluded: “On this basis, I can’t see that targets will be met. I go back to the fact that of the top 30 performing councils rated according to collection - in spite of the fact that the vast majority are falling well short of the target - with no localised targets and no desire to change at council level, we seem to be doomed to fall at the first fence.”

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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