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UK plastics recyclers have reached ‘a fork in the road’

United Kingdom – The British Plastics Federation’€™s Recycling Group (BPF RG) has reiterated the need for ‘€˜urgent’€™ reform of the packaging recovery note (PRN) system before more UK recyclers ‘€˜become victims of the current market failure’€™ affecting members such as Closed Loop Recycling. A fall in oil and commodity polymer prices, coupled with strong demand from low-cost economies for waste plastics, has ‘€˜undermined confidence’€™ in the UK plastics recycling industry, putting jobs and economic security at risk, says the group.

The BPF RG believes the current situation ‘could have been avoided’ if the UK government had taken decisive action and implemented the proposals it published last year in its manifesto. Two fundamental changes were suggested, including splitting the plastics packaging recycling targets in order to distinguish recycling in the UK and the EU from exports beyond Europe.

‘This would be achieved through the existing PRN/PERN (packaging export recovery note) mechanism, leading to a progressive weighting towards increased local recycling year on year,’ the group claims. Such a move would also encourage and incentivise innovation and investment, enabling the UK to ‘future-proof’ markets for plastic waste.

The second suggestion relates to an offset proposal, which calls for modification of the producer responsibility framework to encourage retailers and brand owners to increase the use of recycled polymers. Had the new PRN model been adopted, retailers would have ‘thought twice’ before switching back to virgin and losing their relief from what is a hugely unpredictable cost under producer responsibility obligations, it is contended.

The group also believes the introduction of the so-called ‘Split Target escalator’ would have placed Closed Loop Recycling in an ‘increasingly strong position’ to compete against demand from exports of waste plastic bottles.

Roger Baynham, chairman of the BPF RG, says the industry has ‘effectively reached a fork in the road’, with the choices being: ‘Do nothing, accept that the UK recycling sector will struggle to compete with global low-cost economies and become increasingly dependent on such markets for our waste; or implement changes which can deliver successful and investable long-term recycling businesses which create green UK jobs as part of a sustainable circular economy.’

According to Baynham, developments at Closed Loop Recycling demonstrate that this is a decision ‘which can no longer be ducked’.

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