The previous update to the Plastics Market Situation Report was published in 2011. This report provides an update on key developments over the past few years.
- Significant improvements have been made by local authorities, the recycling industry and other parts of the supply chain towards achieving a circular economy for plastics
- With over two-thirds of LAs collecting pots, tubs and trays (PTTs), finding sustainable end markets for these non-bottle rigid plastics is of particular concern
- Significant improvements
Significant improvements have been made by local authorities, the recycling industry and other parts of the supply chain towards achieving a circular economy for plastics
- Future target concerns
Amid concern that the UK may not meet future plastic recycling targets, the sustainability of recycled plastic end markets is a concern for brands, manufacturers, LAs and reprocessors alike.
- End markets
With over two-thirds of LAs collecting pots, tubs and trays (PTTs), finding sustainable end markets for these non-bottle rigid plastics is of particular concern.
- Operation Green Fence
Operation Green Fence (OGF), introduced in early 2013, resulted in stricter enforcement of Chinese import controls over the quality of recovered material imported into the country.
- Plastic bottle prices
Recovered polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles prices and mixed polymer plastic bottle prices have generally declined since 2011 due to lower oil and cotton prices and concerns about China’s enforcement of import controls.
- Plastic recyclers
Plastics recyclers are particularly vulnerable to changes in market conditions, due to their position in the middle of the supply chain.
- Recycling infrastructure
Recycling infrastructure based on the ability to supply products to a wide range of end markets, and at low cost, are those businesses most likely to be resilient and robust in the current environment.
Overall UK plastics arisings are estimated to be around 3.7 million tonnes. Packaging is the main source of plastic waste arisings, accounting for approximately 2.2 million tonnes (59%) with non-packaging plastic estimated to be 1.5 million tonnes.
In 2013/14, UK LAs are estimated to have collected 500,000 tonnes of plastic packaging from the municipal waste stream, almost 60% higher than the amount collected in 2008/09.
The growth in plastics collections has been achieved by rapid expansion in LA household collection schemes. In 2008/09, 80% of UK LAs operated kerbside plastic bottle collection schemes. By 2014/15 this had risen to 99%.
The amount of plastic packaging recovered for recycling has grown rapidly in recent years.
According to the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD), around 891,000 tonnes of plastic packaging was recycled in 2015, an increase of more than 50% since the previous Plastics Market Situation Report reported on data in 2009 (Chart 1).
Based on the current plastic packaging arising estimate of 2.2 million tonnes this equates to a recycling rate of 40% in 2015.
The largest end market for UK recovered plastic packaging in 2014 was back into packaging, representing just over 60% (split 40/60 between food/non-food contact packaging).
The construction sector is estimated to represent 16% of end market demand, automotive 3% and others representing 19%.
The UK exported 791,000 tonnes of recovered plastic (both packaging and non-packaging plastic) in 2015, 21% of total plastic arisings. Although this represents an increase of around 142,000 tonnes from 2013 it is down from a peak of 880,000 tonnes in 2011.
Recovered HDPE plastic bottle prices tend to follow developments in virgin HDPE prices, (albeit with a lag) which, given that they are derived from oil are in turn broadly correlated with changes in the oil price.
However, developments in virgin HDPE production from mid-2014 changed this relationship, resulting in high costs for packaging companies and an incredibly volatile, challenging market for many recyclers.
There are clear environmental benefits to producing plastic products from recovered plastics, compared with using virgin polymers and disposing of the product post-use via incineration or landfill.
The main environmental benefit lies in the energy saved by avoiding the processes of oil refining and polymerisation of monomers. These are estimated to account for over 95% of the total energy consumed in plastics production.
Bioplastics are those derived, either partially or completely, from biomass sources.
Any plastic however derived (bio or petroleum), that is manufactured/ altered in order to degrade at end of life could present a significant problem to conventional plastic recyclers, even if technically it remains fully compatible with its non-biodegradable equivalent in the actual recycling process. This is because the progress and rate of degradation is unknown, rendering the recycled polymer untrustworthy for any long term durable second life application.
Significant improvements have been made by local authorities, the recycling industry and other parts of the supply chain towards achieving a circular economy for plastics.
Over the past five years there has been a sharp increase in plastic bottle recycling, the introduction of mixed plastic recycling collections by the majority of local authorities and light-weighting of plastic packaging by brands and retailers. However, more needs to be done.
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Plastics Market Situation report 2019
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