Setting 2017 plastics packaging targets

Written by: RWW | Published:

The ambitious targets for recycling of plastic packaging set by the government are still the hottest topic in town. Philip Law, public and industrial affairs director at the British Plastics Federation, reports on that and other issues of concern to the British Plastics Federation.

The current figure used by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to report to Europe the quantity of plastic packaging placed on the market is based on a study carried out by the Advisory Committee for Packaging (ACP) in 2005. This figure was derived from industry and was considered broadly in line with the tonnage at the time.

From 2005 there have been a number of assumptions about the figures used by Defra to report to Europe and also to set the new targets for 2017. These assumptions have been strongly challenged by the British Plastics Federation (BPF). 

For whatever reason, the industry has found itself stuck with a very high set of targets and an assumption that the packaging placed on the market is a great deal higher that what it actually is. This would mean that probably for the last few years the UK plastics recycling industry has been doing better that has been reported to Europe. 

In addition, Defra has assumed an inflated growth rate for plastic packaging placed on the market that is massively over optimistic. This figure had slowed due to light-weighting and it should be set at no more than 1.5%, 

However Defra determined that it should be set at 2%, as it believed that this reflected a more robust position.

PRN/PERN system reform

Directly linked with the 2017 targets is the PRN/PERN system. It is more than a year ago that the BPF recycling group (BPFRG) highlighted the unfairness of the system and asked Defra for a reform, so exporters and UK reprocessors could compete on a level playing field. Furthermore earlier in the year, the group published a new proposal that aims “to encourage and incentivise the use of recycled plastics in UK manufacturing”. 

The proposal highlights the importance of securing end markets for recyclate to achieve a sustainable green economy.  

The offset model is an alternative compliance mechanism for obligated producers that allows producers to meet part of their recovery and recycling obligation for UK packaging waste by directly funding the recycling of UK packaging waste by specifying the use of UK packaging waste in a new product or packaging application that they intend to place on the market. 

Rather than the PRN/PERN proxy model for funding the cost of recovery or recycling, the offset model allows obligated producers to directly fund the recycling of UK packaging waste.

Obligated producers would then be seen to be directly supporting the recycling of UK packaging waste and to be encouraging/specifying a greater use of recycled content. 

They would have an alternative packaging waste compliance mechanism that protects them for the current volatility of the PRN/PERN market.

The recycling group has made some good progress on this and now this is fully supported by Defra as well as many key players from the whole supply chain.

Biodegradable bags

The BPFRG, through its films recycling working arm, has warned the government that excluding biodegradable bags from the carrier bag levy would have catastrophic consequences for the UK recycling industry.

The recycling group claims the compromising effects of biodegradable bags on the entire waste stream seriously threatens household film recycling. It asserts that biodegradable plastic of whatever kind cannot be recycled along with conventional plastics without catastrophic effects. 

It maintains that the two streams would have to be kept separate and since there is little obvious difference between the plastics, there is a great risk of confusing the wider public. Domestic household film recycling would become a casualty, while achieving the government’s 2017 packaging recycling targets would be impossible.

The group points to a study carried out by Ricardo-AEA for the Welsh Assembly Government on single use bags ( which concluded that: “Bio-degradable bags are included under the Irish (bag tax) legislation because they contribute to litter and take some considerable time (months extending to years) to degrade in the natural world. Degradation in landfill may take a considerably longer time”. Both Wales and Ireland include degradable bags in their levy.

In addition, an Environment Agency’s Report on Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags concluded that: “The prodegradant additive does not seem to add much benefits and has a negative impact as it increases the weight of the bag if a recycling system is developed for bags it should not be used”.

Bernard Chase, of Regain Polymers, at the BPF’s annual recycling conference REPLAST 2013 held in November asked: “Since most recycled material goes into long term products, who in their right mind would continue to specify recycled content once degradable plastic was routinely present in the waste stream?”


Moving to the recycling record of a particular material in a non-packaging field, the reputation of PVC is rapidly being restored by a Europe-wide recycling effort which has a particular emphasis in the UK. 

Over 20% of plastics finds its way into the construction market and much of this is PVC which celebrates the 100th anniversary of its first patent this year. 

PVC is valued for its durability and hence it has been traditionally used in long life building applications such as windows, pipes and rainwater goods. At the beginning of the decade, the European PVC industry offered a voluntary commitment to the European Commission - Vinyl 2010 - and this promised, among other things, to recycle increased quantities of windows, pipe and roofing membranes. 

A recycling operation for the commitment was set up to supervise a comprehensive Europe-wide recycling system: Recovinyl. 

In the UK the BPF’s vinyls group was charged with the implementation of the commitment locally and Axion Recycling was appointed to manage Recovinyl’s operation. 

From beginnings of practically zero PVC building products recycling, the UK gradually built up a strong recycling record. 

When Vinyl 2010 concluded its operation in 2010 a new initiative was set up to replace it by the European industry - VinylPlus - which has a target of 800,000 tonnes PVC recycling by 2020.

Last year’s recycling figure for PVC recycling in the UK was 76,492 tonnes, a remarkable achievement considering the slow rate at which PVC enters the waste stream and the fact that for several years the building industry has been in the doldrums. 

Happily, the construction sector is markedly more optimistic partly on the back of government initiatives such as ‘Lend to Buy’ and the National Infrastructure Plan. This could make the future of PVC recycling even more solid. An opportunity to meet a number of PVC recyclers occurred recently at the BPF’s vinyls group’s annual seminar, held at the Etihad stadium in Manchester on 6 October. An adjoining exhibition featured a strong array of PVC recyclers.

For further details on the BPF, visit

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