Packaging recovery on track - but glass unclear

A two percentage point rise in the packaging recovery rate last year to 52% suggests the UK is on track to reach the 60% target set by the EU packaging Directive, according to provisional data from the Environment Department (DEFRA). Part of the increase came from glass - but a dispute over the data suggests that a Government investigation into the sector may be overdue.

Revised last year, the packaging Directive requires Member States to achieve at least 55% recycling and 60% recovery of packaging waste by 2008, with material-specific recycling targets of 60% for glass and cardboard, 50% for metals, 22.5% for plastics and 15% for wood (ENDS Report 347, pp 56-57 ).

DEFRA's data suggest that these targets are achievable. The UK's recovery level reached 52.3% last year, with recycling reaching 46.6% (see tables).

Revenue from the sale by reprocessors and exporters of packaging waste recovery notes (PRNs) and their export equivalent totalled £48.7 million, of which £22 million went to board mills and some £8 million to glass manufacturers.

Recycling rose by some 400,000 tonnes last year, of which half was due to an increase in exports of waste cardboard.

Domestic reprocessing also increased - largely due to glass. But as in previous years, DEFRA and the glass industry are finding it hard to agree on where all the collected glass has gone.

According to David Workman of British Glass, the sector's trade body, last year's increase in glass recycling was partly due to more councils launching kerbside collection schemes for commingled dry recyclables. This trend is being driven by councils seeking to ensure that they achieve their statutory recycling targets for household waste, but also because of greater demand from the aggregates sector.

Another factor, said Mr Workman, may have been the increase in wine consumption, as people are more likely to recycle wine bottles than other types of glass container.

The increase in glass collection also saw a corresponding increase in investment in colour separation, cullet reprocessing and container manufacturing capacity by the glass container manufacturers, especially Rockware.

But while DEFRA's figures point to a drop in exports and an increase in domestic reprocessing, British Glass claims that an additional 100,000 tonnes were exported to container manufacturers in Europe. It also believes the total recycling figure was some 27,000 tonnes higher.

Such wide discrepancies - not for the first time - suggest that robust national packaging recovery data will not be available until the glass sector succumbs to the same kind of investigation as that carried out for wood and plastics. A compliance regime based around trade in evidence of compliance must be based on accurate market data.

Whatever the split between exports and domestic reprocessing, the sector will have to achieve a similar increase each year for the next five years if it is to meet the national glass recycling target of 60% by 2008.

The rest of the increase appears to be due to a major rise in domestic plastics recycling. However, last year's figure may be cut after the Government completes its investigation into inaccurate or fraudulent issue of packaging waste recovery notes (PRNs) by plastics reprocessors.

Around 35 plastics reprocessors - a fifth of the total - have not sought Agency re-accreditation this year. Some of these may have dropped out of the picture because of the investigation.

Following widespread allegations last year of fraudulent issue of plastics PRNs, DEFRA cut the 2002 figure by 65,000 (ENDS Report 342, p 16 ).

Another concern for the Government will be the 3% increase in total reported arisings. If this were to continue until 2008, the amount of packaging waste recovered annually would have to jump from 5.3 million tonnes to 7.1 million tonnes.

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