Recycling target for packaging deferred

A government plan to recycle 75% of packaging waste by 2014 is likely to be pushed back to 2020 due to industry concerns about achievability.

The environment department (DEFRA) is scaling back its ambition to increase packaging recycling, according to a working paper seen by ENDS.

The paper sets out draft packaging recycling targets from 2011 to 2020 and was sent to businesses for comment in November. DEFRA is due to consult on the targets in January as current ones end in 2010 (ENDS Report 397, pp 42-43 ).

The government wants to achieve a 75% recycling rate by 2020, the paper says. This is hardly ambitious as the UK recycled 61.7% in 2008 - the sixth-highest rate in Europe. Recycling of packaging is held back in some countries by high incineration levels.

The 2020 goal is a drop in ambition from previous statements. The government’s packaging strategy, issued in July, declared that a 75% rate must be met by 2014 "to lift the UK’s performance into the upper quartile of the EU15" (ENDS Report 413, p 43-44 ).

When contacted by ENDS, DEFRA said the packaging strategy’s mention of 75% was not a target or ambition, but a statement of fact.

John Turner, chair of the government’s Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP), said the date was pushed back to 2020 shortly after the strategy was published. "DEFRA and BIS [the business department] realised it was pretty stretching to get there in that timescale," he said. "It’s even pretty stretching to get there in 2020.

One of the main reasons is that not all companies are required to recycle packaging, added Mr Turner. Only businesses turning over more than £2m and handling more than 50 tonnes of packaging a year must recycle under the packaging regulations. These firms have much higher recovery and recycling targets than DEFRA’s overall targets, to make up for the smaller businesses which are not covered.

The working paper includes targets for all packaging materials up to 2020 (see table).

These would be reviewed after five years "to take account of market changes and any possible EU developments".

Plastic sees the biggest increase compared with its current recycling rate. It must jump from 23.7% in 2008 to 57.1% by 2020. Aluminium’s target is 69.5% for 2020, just over double its 2008 level of 34.6%. The aluminium target seems low given the government’s intention to consult on a landfill ban of the material next year (ENDS Report 408, pp 18-19 ).

Trade bodies for both industries oppose the proposals according to minutes for a recent ACP meeting issued in December.1 The British Plastics Federation says a high target could require poor quality material to be collected which can only be recycled into low-value materials such as fence posts. This would lose much of the potential environmental benefit.

However, the working paper says only 67% of households currently have access to kerbside plastic bottle collections and only 10% to collections for other plastics. High targets need to be set to ensure industry invests in improving these figures.

The paper also confirms that DEFRA is to split its glass recycling target to encourage remelt over using glass as aggregate. This was mooted in the packaging strategy. Each tonne of glass that gets remelted saves 315 kilograms of CO2 compared with being landfilled. Glass used in aggregate saves none. DEFRA wants businesses to meet 55.2% of their individual targets using remelted glass in 2011, rising to 65.6% in 2020.

To achieve this will require much more of the glass to be collected in separate colours. Measures to achieve this could include "a much denser network of bring banks, [an] increase in commercial and industrial collections [or] a proportion of local authorities switching from colour-mixed collection systems to systems which allow sorting," the paper says. Industry will need to pay for these improvements, although the paper does not quantify costs.

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