Recession dampens growth in post-consumer recycling

Recycling of post-consumer waste showed only a modest advance in 1991. The tonnages recovered increased as expected for most materials as new local authority collection schemes came on stream, but industry is blaming the recession for hitting what might otherwise have been a better performance.

The table summarises the changes in post-consumer recycling in 1991. Recycling rates for glass, paper and steel showed only limited increases, while that for aluminium remains well under 10%. Plastics recycling has barely got off the ground. The higher growth for aluminium and plastics reflects their lower starting volumes.

  • Glass: The improvement in the overall recycling rate for glass is not impressive. However, the figures mask an increase of 15.6% in collections from bottle banks. Recycling of commercial glass, mainly from bars and restaurants, slumped because of the recession, according to British Glass.

    Glass recycling sites increased from 5,800 in 1990 to 7,155 in 1991 - well on the way to the industry's target of 10,000 by 1995.

  • Paper and board: The charges imposed by paper merchants for collecting low-grade waste paper are showing through in the recycling record. According to the British Waste Paper Association (BWPA), the rate has now reached a plateau due to the cheapness of landfill and the lack of capacity to recycle any more reclaimed fibre. The proposed SCA newspaper recycling plant at Aylesford (ENDS Report 206, p 4 ) should help to remedy the situation - provided the investment gets the go-ahead from the SCA board.

  • Steel: Some 1.2 billion steel cans were collected in 1991, compared with 1.125 billion in 1990. The number of steel can banks has increased from 347 in January 1991 to the current 670, and is on target to reach 1,000 by 1994. Collections from banks totalled 4,500 tonnes in 1991, compared with 2,000 tonnes in 1990. The remaining 10% were recovered by magnetic extractors operated by local authorities.

    British Steel Tinplate fared better last year in persuading three local authorities to install magnetic extractors, compared to just one in 1990. The new units are at Edmonton, north London, Hastings, and Newton Heath, Manchester.

    Another three magnetic extractors have been installed this year at Cunninghame in Scotland, Bolton and Dudley. Two more are due to come on stream in the summer.

  • Plastics: Growth in post-consumer plastics recycling failed to meet expectations in 1991, coming in 400 tonnes below the anticipated total of 2,400 tonnes (ENDS Report 197, pp 13-14).

    Recycling of all plastic packaging, including that from commercial sources, increased from over 40,000 tonnes in 1990 to an annual rate of 100,000 tonnes by the end of 1991, giving a recycling rate of 7.7%. For the year as a whole the rate was closer to 5.5%, according to the British Plastics Federation (BPF).

    The recession is again cited as a key factor in a poorer than anticipated performance. "It's hit our people very hard," the BPF says. Three recyclers, Dundee Plastics Manufacturing, Superwood (UK) and Multipak Plastics, went into liquidation in 1991. The low cost of virgin polymer, up to £120-£150 per tonne cheaper than recycled material, was the main cause.

  • Aluminium: Recycling of aluminium cans was boosted with the opening of a 50,000 tonnes per year recycling plant in Warrington last December (ENDS Report 204, p 12 ). However, little of its capacity is being taken by British feedstock because of the poorly developed can collection infrastructure.

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