In its latest UK Household Plastic Packaging Sorting and Reprocessing Infrastructure Report 2020, plastics recycling charity Recoup has highlighted the hurdles facing plastics producers of reprocessed materials in the UK if the industry is to be able to meet the recycled content target mandated by the proposed Plastic Packaging Tax. The report details how existing infrastructure shortfalls have been made worse by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The new tax, which is due to be implemented in April 2022, will be levied on the production and import of all plastic packaging that does not include at least 30% recycled content. Not only is the current sorting and reprocessing infrastructure in the UK not equipped to handle the additional demand this will create, the global pandemic has severely disrupted the market for recycled plastics.
A major drop in both oil and Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) price, has made virgin plastic more attractive and economically viable to packaging producers, driven changes in product and packaging demands, as well as creating logistical challenges such as staff shortages and site closures.
According to Recoup, the biggest problem is not the actual sorting and recycling, but is instead the very significant shortage of reprocessing capacity. There are also challenging commercial conditions and fine profit margins in this sector, with very specific operational and technical challenges around reprocessing plastic film, non-bottle PET and food grade packaging.
The current plastic reprocessing capacity is estimated to be around 230,000 tonnes a year. The report looks at various scenarios to understand the impact of the tax on the demand for reprocessed materials. It showed that if all plastic packaging were to consist of at least 30% recycled content, the UK’s reprocessing capacity would need to increase by 100%. This capacity would have to be expanded by over 200% to meet that target for food grade rigid household plastic packaging.