Until recently, enough packaging waste was being collected to enable most obligated businesses and compliance schemes to meet recovery and recycling targets under the regulations by buying packaging waste recovery notes (PRNs) from reprocessors such as paper mills. They did not take direct steps to collect waste.
A significant exception has been Wastepack, which joined forces with Babergh District council in Suffolk to establish a kerbside collection scheme. It also leases Viridor's materials recycling facility in Ipswich (ENDS Reports 303, p 18 and 291, p 10 ). UK Waste's compliance scheme, Recycle UK, considered giving Bath and North East Somerset council a collection subsidy to extend its kerbside scheme (ENDS report 293, p 28 ), but backed out.
However, the PRN market has long been expected to tighten in 2001, when the UK must meet the recovery and recycling targets set by the EC packaging Directive. Targets for obligated businesses have been steadily increasing since 1997 and were originally expected to reach 52% recovery and 16% material-specific recycling in 2001.
The material-specific target is a problem only for plastics. But the 56% recovery target - a big leap from this year's 45% - means that compliance schemes are anxiously targeting materials which offer the easiest way to increase recovery.
Glass fits the bill. Around 1.5 million tonnes is still landfilled and there is a well established collection and reprocessing infrastructure - simply a shortage of bottle banks and household collections.
In November, Valpak announced a "multi-million pound" investment in around 3,000 new bottle banks to collect 15,000-20,000 tonnes of glass from over 100 councils. The banks will be serviced by Glass Recycling UK, with the amber and clear glass - about half the total - recycled into new containers by Rexam Glass.
The investment programme is understood to cost around £1.6 million. This seems significant when compared to the £2.6 million in PRN revenue received by glass container manufacturers in 1999, spent on supporting cullet prices, purchasing bottle banks, promotional activity and improvements in manufacturers' ability to handle and store cullet.
However, the initiative falls well short of the 1.1 million tonnes that would have to be reprocessed next year if glass was to take its full share of responsibility in meeting the UK's 50% recovery target. Valpak is predicting that 720,000 tonnes of glass will be recycled next year, up from around 520,000 in 2000.
The new programme builds on existing relationships. The councils are all in the northern half of England and Wales, close to Rexam's facilities, and almost all already have contracts with Glass Recycling UK, Rexam's sole supplier. Rexam already supplies glass PRNs to Valpak. Under the new contract, which covers a period longer than one year, Valpak will pay more for glass PRNs than it has this year.
Valpak also intends to set up a collection system from pubs and other licensed premises. Rexam, formerly PLM Redfearn, already supplies PRNs to brewing companies in exchange for cullet collected under the brewing industry's "bottleback" scheme (ENDS Report 293, p 18 ).
Giving evidence to a House of Commons inquiry on waste management in November, Valpak Chief Executive John Turner complained that the latest increase in the recovery and recycling targets was "too late and too much. I don't disagree that the targets need to increase but it takes time to get initiatives going."
Of course, Valpak could have approached local authorities and made investments earlier, but at that time it was still hoping to persuade the Government to spread the obligation onto smaller firms rather than increase burdens on firms already under the regulations.
Meanwhile, as the first signs of a tightening in the market begin to appear, the supermarkets have resurrected their claims to bottles and cans deposited in banks in their car parks - even though the banks are owned by local authorities or contractors operating on their behalf (ENDS Report 272, p 18 ). Any PRNs they can claim would be offset against their compliance bills.