UK plastics recycling tonnages will be a key focus for 2012 as the sector continues to extend the work done on PET and HDPE bottles recycling, according to Keith Freegard, director of resource and recovery specialists Axion Consulting.
With UK plastic bottle recycling rates nudging 50% for drink and dairy bottles, Freegard believes that further investment in technology and equipment to extract a wider range of materials from mixed plastic collections offers major potential for improvement.
“To get even higher bottle recycling rates, UK Plc has to find viable technologies to deal with mixed rigid plastics, films and the inevitable residuals,” he said. “Kerbside collection data points to a huge untapped source of rigid, non-bottle packaging items becoming available as local authorities offer collections of more household plastics, as well as an often-ignored, high volume of post-consumer films.”
While full mixed plastics collections are very popular with local authorities, they can only realistically be initiated when processing infrastructure is in place, otherwise recovery of the materials that are currently targeted will actually decrease, Freegard explained.
“Today's primary sorting Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) and bottle-sorting Plastic Recovery Facilities (PRFs) were developed in response to PET and HDPE recyclate demand. Next-generation infrastructure must be capable of extracting value from other rigid plastics and films if we are to achieve higher overall plastic packaging recycling targets.”
According to Freegard new investments must therefore complement continued growth in annual bottle recovery and be capacity-matched to the rise in other rigid and flexible plastics generated from existing plastic recycling infrastructure.
“People are realising we need to tackle more difficult waste streams. One solution would be to build more integrated ‘resource parks' where varied and mixed waste streams can be processed in complementary ways. For example, residual materials from sorting commingled waste streams can be used as an energy source to provide local heat and power for adjacent washing and reprocessing units.”