Objectives

The following research objectives were set:

  • To identify the probable cost of producing recycled plastics and therefore the price of virgin polymers (PET and HDPE) at which their production becomes economically viable.
  • To explain any imbalances between supply and demand at points in the plastics recycling supply-chain.
  • To understand the possible engineering constraints to using high levels of recycled content in plastic bottles.
  • To describe the mechanism by which the escalating levels may be introduced and enforced.
  • To explain the potential impact those escalating levels would have on the rate of reuse of plastic bottles.
  • To identify potential unintended consequences from introducing escalating levels for the recycled content of plastic bottles.
  • To explore whether there are more efficient and effective ways of increasing the use of recovered bottles in the UK, and the incidences of reuse.

Findings

This study found that a mandate introducing escalating recycled content for PET and HDPE bottles should be effective at increasing closed-loop recycling and bringing stability to the market for post-consumer plastic bottles. However it was established that it may be economically inefficient.

A much simpler solution would be to address the potential inefficiencies of the PRN/ PERN system. The present situation discourages the production of pure baled bottles since contaminated bales can be shipped to China while receiving the same grant as material sorted, washed and flaked in the UK. Notwithstanding the important role that export markets have played in allowing the UK to develop its recyclate collection, this system should be altered to reduce the costs to domestic reprocessors.

Part of the study’s aim was to consider how incidences of reuse might be affected by a mandate introducing escalating recyclate content. The conclusion based on the findings in this study is very little, even if recycled plastic prices were forced higher, since the gulf in costs between recycling and reuse is believed to be large. Therefore if the aim is to increase reuse, this should be targeted directly. Bearing in mind what is discussed, reuse could be incorporated into the PRN system.


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Recycled Content Report 509kB