LONDON (ICIS)--Although separated waste collection systems in the UK would increase quality, it would also raise costs significantly, according to an executive at waste treatment firm Suez on Friday.
Stuart Hayward-Higham, technical development director at the UK company, added that the cost is particularly raised in urban areas because of the additional time taken to lift bins on to disposal trucks.
“The commodity prices need to be able to fund that difference,” said Hayward-Higham (pictured) during a presentation at plastics conference IdentiPlast in London.
Hayward-Higham’s comments followed those from Kate Geraghty, director, sustainability and advocacy for Europea, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Dow Packaging and Speciality Plastics in an early presentation.
“If we can’t find value added applications, the recycling market won’t move forward,” Geraghty had said.
Part of the problem, according to Hayward-Higham, is the material lost due to wastage in the mechanical recycling process.
“If 90% of the people do 90% of the right thing 90% of the time, that gives you just 73% of the post-consumer material collected and around 59% once you’ve gone through all of your wastage in the chain,” Hayward-Higham said.
In several key plastic mechanical recycling streams such as recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET), recycled polyethylene (R-PE), and recycled polypropylene (R-PP), wastage rates have been increasing in recent years.
This is in part linked to the banning of plastic waste imports in to China.
Previously, lower quality material was exported to China for use in textile applications, but China is no longer accepting waste bales and this material is being absorbed back into European post-consumer tonnes, increasing contamination, and by extension contamination rates.
Along with this, increased demand for R-PE has meant that some post-consumer PE bale collectors are including increased volumes of white material in their colourless bales.
White material is difficult for downstream producers to separate and leads to colouration, making higher percentages of material unusable for clear and food-grade applications, where demand is strongest because of sustainability commitments from the packaging sector.
There are technical barriers that prevent the recycling of post-consumer material back in to food-grade material.
European legislation for food-grade contact approval stipulates that recycled input waste must be sourced from at least 98% former food contact packaging for recycling back into food-grade pellets.
The challenges of sorting processes makes this cost prohibitive for many recycled markets.
For recycled polyethylene (R-PE), for example, only the UK is able to produce food-grade material, and even then only for high density polyethylene (HDPE).
The UK is able to produce food-grade volumes because of its natural post-consumer bale material which is sourced from used plastic milk bottles.
Across most of the rest of Europe, milk bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
This gives the UK a readily available separated stream of post-consumer material from food-contact applications, which is not possible in other European countries.
With no comparative pre-separated post-consumer collection stream in mainland Europe, it is not possible to meet the 98% target.
“There’s a clear need to have the correct regulatory environment. That we can have food-grade contact material. That chemical recycling is seen as complimentary to mechanical recycling,” Geraghty said.
Picture source: Suez