How the recycling industry has grown in the UK

How the recycling industry has grown in the UK

Sustainability, Sustainable Business

The UK recycling market continues to grow, but as it does, it finds itself faced with new trends and challenges, some of which threaten its further growth. Many of these challenges are found specifically in the plastics market. While we’re finding that more and more of the plastics that we use can be recycled, we’re also coping with a difficulty that many business owners have in finding plastic recycling facilities near them.

Steadily growing use of plastic of packaging

The latest numbers in the amount of plastic packaging being used in the market is around 2.4 million tonnes, as of 2017. The use of plastic packaging has been relatively stable. While general product consumption continues to rise, the reduction in overall weight in plastic recycling is thought to have counteracted this trend. However, 2.5 million tonnes of non-packaging plastic is also being used in the market, primarily by construction companies.

More plastics being collected

Since 2013/2015, the amount of plastic packing being collected has risen by 10%, now resting at 550 thousand tonnes per year. Plastic bottle collection has been adopted across virtually all local authorities, with a further 80% collecting some plastic pots, tubs, and trays. Other kinds of plastic are not as widely accepted yet, with only 17% of local councils accepting carrier bags, while 10% collect all kinds of plastic film.

UK Domestic recycling needs on the rise

Beforehand, the UK relied on overseas plastic recycling markets. However, these export markets are closing, while UK consumption of plastic, overall, is on the rise. As such, there’s a growing need for greater plastics recycling infrastructure, more plastic recycling facilities, and overall a greater domestic recycling capacity.    

The loss of export markets

As mentioned, the UK has lost access to export markets that no longer accept the import of low quality plastics, which has led to the increased demand of UK domestic recycling. Other markets throughout South East Asia have since done the same, and have impacted the prices of plastic products, such as pots, tubs, trays, and film.    

The signing of the UK Plastics Pact

Created by WRAP, the organisation that generated the report this article is based on, the UK Plastics Pact is an international initiative in support of The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy. It names targets such as increasing the rate of plastic recycling and to create sustainable end markets within the industry.    

A greater need for recycled goods

Consumers and industries alike are showing a higher demand for recycled content. More brands continue to pledge to reduce their overall plastic use, including signatories of the UK Plastics Pact. As such, many of them will be helping to meet higher recycling targets by using more recycled plastics in their products, especially in the automotive, electrical, and construction sectors.  

Global plastic use continues to grow

Largely spurred on by developing countries with newly forming economies, global plastic consumption is likely to remain on the rise for some time. As such, the adoption of efforts to improve waste management infrastructure across the globe is necessary. The Plastics Pact in the U.K. is playing a role in aiming for this, followed up by France, the Netherlands, and Chile.    

Public awareness of plastic use continues to grow

Not only are people more aware of the importance of recycling plastic, but the need for proper waste management has also become more greatly known. The impacts of plastic waste on the environment are more widely known, as well as the impacts on the oceans and habitats in the wild due to plastic waste mismanagement.

Policy continues to change in support of positive change

In the UK, the EU, and other economies across the world, the question of plastic waste has become increasingly frequent. In the UK alone, the government is consulting on the reduction of plastic in recycling, deposit return schemes for plastic products, increasing plastic recycling collections, and a tax on plastics packaging.

The key takeaways

Most of the data from above was acquired from the Plastics Market Situation Report 2019, which you can read in full here. Their key findings have shown that the closure of export markets means that the demand for UK recycling has grown even further, while more effort and investment must be made into developing markets for plastic recycling and that domestic plastic recycling needs continue to rise, so the industry must rise to meet them.