UK plastic recycling data ‘cannot be trusted’

6th March 2018

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Joely Slinn

The UK consistently overestimates how much of its plastic packaging it recycles, and may have failed to meet EU recycling targets in each year between 2008 and 2012.

That is according to a new report from waste consultancy Eunomia, which explains how the weight of plastic recorded for recycling in Britain is often inflated by the inclusion of moisture and contaminants.

It also highlights how official data for the amount of plastic entering the market is produced by the packaging industry through ‘compliance schemes’, rather than gathered independently.

This provides little incentive for the industry to provide accurate data, as the lower the figure for the amount entering the market the less needs to be recycled, keeping compliance costs down.

As a result, Eunomia estimates the recycling rate in the UK may be 9-10% lower than previously thought, and that the country produces 3.5 million tonnes of plastic waste a year, rather than the official figure of 2.26 million.

“It’s not really surprising to find that the UK’s recycling rate for plastics is not as good as is claimed,” Eunomia chairman, Dominic Hogg, said. "The existing system of producer responsibility is failing.

“The disparities between datasets indicate that the existing scheme gives a weak foundation on which to base the recycling figures.”

Almost 39% of plastic packaging waste in the UK is claimed to be recycled, however, the research suggests Britain may have failed to meet the EU’s Waste Framework Directive of 22.5% in the four years following 2008.

Another problem highlighted with the country’s producer responsibility system is that it is actually designed to deliver recycling compliance at the lowest possible cost to the industry, according to the report.

It highlights how in some other European countries, producers meet the full cost of household recycling systems, but that in Britain, they cover just 10% at most.

“The scheme supports the reporting of compliance at low cost, rather than achieving high quality recycling of plastic packaging,” Hogg continued.

“It has allowed problems with plastic packaging to grow, and in its most basic responsibility – demonstrating compliance with a target – the data cannot be trusted.”

Image credit: iStock


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