Local authorities, the recycling sector and the wider supply chain have made “significant improvements” towards creating a circular economy for plastics, according to waste charity Wrap.
In its latest Plastics Market Situation report, Wrap said since 2009 there had been a sharp increase in recycling of plastic packaging, up more than 50%.
The market had also witnessed the introduction of mixed plastic collections by the majority of local authorities, up to an estimated 67% in 2014/15, as well as a trend towards light-weighting by brands and retailers.
The report also highlighted that despite concerns from a number of stakeholders, there were a “wide range of end market sectors and applications potentially available for UK collected plastics”.
Wrap said that the sliding price of oil “did not tell the whole story” when it came to prices for plastics, although virgin plastics' prices remained closely related to underlying oil prices and any improvement in the latter would be felt in the former, “followed, albeit with a delay, by recovered plastic prices”.
Wrap went on: “Looking further out, the impact of European virgin plastic producers importing cheaper feedstock from the US (in the form of ethane, as opposed to the naphtha currently used by European manufacturers) on virgin plastic prices is uncertain.
“While lower feedstock costs may increase margins for those European petrochemical companies that can make use of cheaper ethane, it is unclear whether this will necessarily translate into lower virgin plastic prices and to what extent.”
Speaking about the document, Wrap director Marcus Gover said: “This report provides much needed clarity to some of the challenges the sector has faced recently as well as confidence on where to invest next.
“Plastic recyclers don't have to wait for oil prices to rise again. There are markets out there that will work that aren't linked to oil prices. It's about keeping costs low, not overreaching and identifying an end product to sell the reprocessed materials into.”
And Barry Turner, director the plastics and flexible packaging group at the British Plastics Federation, said: “Collecting information down to the granular and detailed level as presented in this report is always challenging.
“However the estimates and actual data given present an excellent summary of the market and progress made in extending plastic collection and recycling in the UK together with some of the future challenges and opportunities that exist.
“This will prove to be an important and enduring reference document.”