While most of us are trying our best to recycle plastic, the collection methods in place by councils across the UK continue to sow confusion over what can and cannot be recycled. Plans are now in place in England to ensure improved plastic recycling methods, but strategy for the remainder of the UK remains under review.
Councils generally collect plastic recycling differently. Research reveals almost forty sets of rules applying to the plastic recycling recovery process. The general rules in place confirm that:
# Most collect bottles
# Some collect plastic trays, pots and tubs
# Others encourage the collection of a much wider range of plastic recycling
The Plastic Types
Clear PET and less expensive opaque HDPE moulds are the commonest plastic bottles and these are easy to collect and recycle. Typically, polypropylene comprises the omnipresent fast food trays, which are an easily made by-product.
However, not all councils have access to facilities that use low-density polyethylene (LDPE) technology when it comes to some carrier bags and cling film. Mostly, plastic discards are easy to process but prove more difficult to sort as they often contain contaminated leftover food. That is quite ironic as the original design aimed to protect the food content.
Certain Plastics worth More in Recycle Parlance
According to statistical data gathered in November 2018, the maximum price per tonne of plastic waste is:
# Natural HDPE – £375
# Clear and light blue PET – £145
# Coloured HDPE – £110
# Coloured PET and Mixed Plastic – £30 respectively
What Makes Plastic Recycling so Confusing
Not all plastics can be recycled, not that it is necessarily economical to dispose of the discards. Moreover:
# Bottles attract the best prices, especially clear ones, which is why almost all councils recycle them
# Coloured plastic is less desirable because colour is impossible to remove, restricting reuse
# Polystyrene is almost never recycled simply because there is no market for it
Most bottles will recycle under current reprocessing technology in the UK. However, plastic that is less valuable (about two-thirds collected for recycling) ends up in refill sites overseas and this figure has been rising worryingly. Certain countries are refusing to take any foreign waste.
Specifically China, Malaysia, and Vietnam have banned waste imports, and Thailand will join them in 2021. These bans are affecting prices paid for waste plastic. Moreover, prices of the more contaminated plastics have fallen below zero, meaning contractors now expect payment to dispose of the problem waste.
The National Audit Office reported that the plastic sent abroad could be highly contaminated, meaning it may not prove suitable for reprocessing and could end up in landfill or contributing to pollution. This is a pollution disaster waiting to happen.
Waste plastic collection methods differ from one council to the next. For example:
# Some councils ask households to separate their plastics from the rest of their recycling, whereas…
# Other local authorities collect all their recycling in one bin
Councils also subcontract different companies to collect and sort the recycling material, including plastic discards. Recycling rules certainly differ between councils. Some allow residents to recycle margarine tubs, while the neighbouring council may not. This often results in confusion particularly for newcomers moving into a new neighbourhood.
Understand the Rules Applied by Your Local Authority
Regardless of whether you have lived in the area for years, or are a newcomer, acquaint yourself with the rules set by your local council. Most authorities are keen to engage local residents, and get them thinking and supporting effective recycling programmes.
Uppermost is getting the scourge of single-use plastics properly under control. This begins with a responsible attitude from each resident regardless of where they happen to live. Let’s change from kicking the can down the road to recycling it!