Recoup: UK needs to double its plastics recycling capacity

The British government plans to impose a tax on plastic packaging containing less than 30 per cent recycled material beginning in April 2022. In order to supply enough recycled plastic to meet that 30 per cent content threshold, domestic recycling capacity would need to be doubled, according to the non-profit organisation Recoup (Recycling of Used Plastics Limited). For food packaging consisting of rigid plastics, processing capacity would have to be tripled, said the organisation, which based its estimates on its recent survey of the UK's sorting and recycling infrastructure for post-consumer plastic waste.

Recoup explained that sorting capacity will not be a barrier to boosting plastic recycling in the run-up to the implementation of the plastic tax. However, based on the 2020 update to its UK Household Plastic Packaging Sorting and Reprocessing Infrastructure Report, the organisation foresees "significant shortfalls" in domestic recycling capacity.

Recoup estimates the UK's current plastic reprocessing capacity at 230,000 tonnes per year. Some 460,000 tonnes of recycled plastic would be needed if 30 per cent of plastic packaging is to be composed of recycled material. The estimated shortfall for rigid household plastic packaging stands at 110,000 tonnes per year. For rigid packaging used in food-contact applications, the UK would need to raise reprocessing capacity from just 65,000 tonnes per year to around 200,000 tonnes if packaging manufacturers are to avoid the tax.

In its report, Recoup also considered a scenario in which the UK was no longer able to export waste plastics. To process all of the plastic packaging waste collected from households for recycling, British capacity would have to be boosted by around 140 per cent from its current level of 230,000 tonnes a year.

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