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Mixed News About Recycling - UK needs to Improve the Quality of Recycled Materials.

July 26, 2020 11:15 PM

Bright Green Plastics Recycling at Castleford (Let's Recycle)While everyone is in favour of a greater proportion of plastic being recycled, not everyone is aware of the cost and complexity of the processes needed to achieve this. Dirty and/or mixed waste plastic has hardly any value at all and is fit only for the waste stream feed into an Energy from Waste Unit which will cost you about £90 a tonne (you pay them). At least this is cheaper than £113.15 a tonne at a landfill site (includes the Landfill Tax). On the other hand if you had clean, baled mixed bottles strapped on a pallet you might be paid £70 a tonne - and if you had clear, light blue PET bottles you might get as much as £240 a tonne.

However between the dirty mixed plastics and the clean sorted bottles lies a lot of expensive technology. The first step is to keep the bottles out of the dirty waste stream and the second is to sort that stream to give a pure product suitable to go for granulation and pass the standards for re-use for food and pharmaceutical packaging.

Governments around the world are responding to calls to increase the proportion of recycled material in plastic products. In the UK there will be a tax of £200 a tonne on plastic produced with less than 30% recycled content and in the EU there will be a tax of €800 per tonne levied per gramme on the weight of unrecycled plastic used to make the product. The EU system gives manufacturers an incentive to get as close as possible to 100% recycled, whereas the UK system just incentifies manufacturers to get over a modest threshold - thogh this will be slowly increased each year.

Where however does this recycled plastic come from? Well, the answer is that it must come from the municipal and commercial waste stream, and this is the problem.

Although there is a Norwegian company TOMRA Recycling offering a high tech system that first breaks the waste plastic into flakes. These flakes contain high amounts of PP and PE (which comes mostly from the bottle caps), PET, HDPE, LDPE, pieces of metal, PVC from remaining labels and small quantities of other contaminants.

The flakes then go through a vigorous cleaning process which involves different combinations of metal separators, sieves and air separators plus multiple steps of flotation, hot and cold washing, rinsing and drying, to sort into usable materials without contamination.

Another company called Bright Green Plastics in West Yorkshire is also claiming it has the potential to do the same sort of processing, but without going in any details.

Meanwhile the collection of mixed recyclates at the kerbside which is now common in UK and Ireland is increasingly generating criticism that this waste stream is becoming more complex and difficult to sort, and it is also becoming more and more contaminated by non-plastic material. Similar criticisms are mounting in respect of waste paper from domestic sources in the two countries.

Somehow either the public needs to be encouraged to take more care, or the councils need to introduce an easy system for a waste stream dedicated to plastic recovery. It would probably be accepted by the public, and it could even reduce councils' costs by increase the value of the waste they have to dispose of.

Based on articles in Let's Recycle on 20/07/20 and 23/07/20