William Eichler 21 May 2019

Over half of councils ‘experiencing issues’ with plastic markets

More than 50% of councils have reported that they were ‘experiencing issues’ with plastic markets, new research has revealed.

The market for plastic packaging has changed dramatically in the wake of the Chinese government’s decision to stop importing post-consumer plastics.

Countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Poland became popular destinations for material in the wake of China’s decision. However, they could not cope with the scale and so placed restrictions on imports.

According to an analysis of how these market changes were impacting on councils in the UK, 52% of local authorities said they were ‘experiencing issues’ with plastic markets.

RECOUP, the authority on plastics waste and resource management which published the analysis, also found that nearly half of councils stated that market values for plastics were being affected.

The research found that there were stable markets for clear and light blue PET bottles and natural HDPE milk bottles.

Local authorities only collecting plastic bottles told researchers they would like to continue with a bottle only collection scheme as values for this material have remained stable.

RECOUP’s analysis found that quality was the primary market factor and increasingly end markets are becoming more limited. Low grade material or ‘mixed plastics’ are being diverted to Energy Recovery, RDF and SRF.

Plastic film is generally reported to be going to Energy Recovery.

Researchers found that there is ‘increased interest’ from consumers in recycling. They warned, however, that they were increasingly recycling plastics that are not target material or not presenting them in an optimal way.

RECOUP also warned that the current systems are ‘not able to handle’ the diverse and complex nature of the material.

‘New funding and infrastructure systems should increase and focus investment to transform consumer collections, material sorting and recycling of post-consumer packaging, and development of UK based end markets should be a central component of this,’ read RECOUP’s report.

‘This does not change the position in the short or medium term, and a careful balance is needed between delivering any interventions quickly to meet immediate needs and optimising any changes to meet the UK’s long term aims.’

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