The worrying truth is that under half of the UK’s plastic waste is recycled. Most consumers do their bit by placing our plastic waste into the recycling bin. But often the plastic waste doesn’t end up in the right place. The rate of plastic waste recycling in the UK is currently 46.2%, meaning over half of the plastic we use is deposited into landfill or incineration.
Less than 50% of the total waste in the UK is recycled or recovered. Landfill and incineration cover the rest of that percentage; a worrying thought during a time of climate crisis. As consumers reduce the number of plastics they buy and recycle as much as possible, the government is introducing initiatives to improve the effectiveness of recycling in the UK.
Which plastics can be recycled?
There are seven main types of plastic in production: PET, HDPE, PVC, LDPE, PP, PS and other. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the most common – this is what all your plastic bottles are made from. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) come in second and third place. With this many plastics in production, all with different compositions and degrees of recyclability, it’s no wonder consumers struggle knowing how to recycle correctly.
It’s been said that the lower the resin code found on plastic packaging, the more recyclable it actually is. This isn’t the case – the number is simply an identification code noting the resin used to create it. You should always check your local recycling regulations before recycling plastics. Colour is another factor of plastic recyclability. Transparent plastic is commonly recycled but coloured plastic is less desirable as it can’t be dyed to any colour. Black plastic is a no go for recycling bins. This packaging can’t be detected by sorting machines and is sent to landfill or incineration. More companies are actioning on the need to improve recycling so are swapping coloured plastic packaging for clear. This helps to boost recyclability and ensure the bottles can be reused without restrictions.
Where is plastic recycled?
There are limited facilities to recycle plastic in the UK. A lot of money is demanded to separate and recycle different types of plastic using specialist machines. While money is needed to recycle, money is also made by recycling, making it the preferred waste management method. Local councils in the UK collect recycled waste from green bins and kerbside schemes but don’t accept all types of plastic. Which plastics are recycled depends on the facilities local councils have available. Meaning what’s recyclable in one area, might not be in another.
That’s why over half of our plastic ends up in landfill or incineration. This is an expensive disposal method that doesn’t give as much back to the economy as recycling. With limited capacity for recycling millions of tonnes of waste in the UK, the government ships waste overseas to countries including Malaysia, China and India. This helps the government hit management targets but doesn’t actually dispose of the waste – shifting the responsibility onto another country to sort. Many independent companies, like Pro Environmental, have their own waste sorting facilities. We recycle tonnes of plastic bottles from the UK which are supplied to the food and beverage market. This helps to clean up the nation’s plastic waste and maintain a truly circular economy.
The price of plastic recycling
A considerable number of manufacturers prefer to use new plastics as they tend to be cheaper than recycled plastic. As plastic is made from crude oil, decreasing oil prices mean producing new plastic can cost very little. New plastics use crude oil and release toxic chemicals into the environment. Despite being cheaper to produce, manufacturers are moving towards rPET. Being 100% recyclable, rPET ensures plastic bottles can be recycled again and again. This helps to limit the amount of plastic waste in landfill and incineration.
PET plastic is the most sought after plastic as it’s quality remains high after ongoing recycling and recovery. PET is used for plastic bottles and is often bought in bulk by food and beverage companies. rPET ensures the production of new plastics is reduced so our existing sources of plastic fulfil their lifecycle.
The future of plastic recycling
The UK government has the goal to achieve 50% of total waste recycling and recovery by 2020. They want to create a circular economy that reduces the number of raw materials in production. The government wants to ensure waste is recycled and recovered, consumed and used, then sent to resource recovery and waste management.
A circular economy within the UK would allow us to reduce the amount of waste we create as a society. It would prolong the lives of the materials we do use and move away from a linear economy. To guarantee this happens, the government has promised to introduce the plastic packaging tax on plastics with less than 30% recycled content. They want to enforce further responsibility for packaging manufacturers and impose minimum requirements for efficient packaging.
Recycling is crucial to reduce the amount of plastic in circulation and improve plastic management. Increasing consumer awareness of recycling has reduced the amount of plastic wasted. The government’s goals to place responsibility on suppliers and tax plastic production will further boost recyclability. As consumers, councils and the government work together, we can improve the effectiveness of recycling across the UK.