Brexit could drive UK circular economy

Brexit could offer fresh opportunities for the UK and its manufacturers to secure their raw material supplies, such as recycled plastics, from a stable domestic market and stimulate a circular flow of materials.

Potential difficulties in transporting material across borders after March 29 2019 could become a driver for growth in the domestic market as purchasers seek to reduce inward material supply chain risk.

Axion Director Roger Morton asserts that freedom from regulatory controls and external policies, coupled with the ability to set our own rules, could encourage greater investment and enable the UK to ‘get ahead of the rest of Europe’ in material recovery and resource security, provided there is strong Government leadership.

Mark Keenan, Axion Polymers Business Development Manager comments: “With 31.5 million cars currently on UK roads, our future end-of-life vehicle feedstock for our recycled polymers is assured. And that can only be good news for UK companies seeking to use locally-sourced plastic raw materials that can go back into a range of products, from new cars and electrical equipment to construction products,” adds Mark.

Roger says: “Brexit is inevitable now. Although complications could arise, we are taking a positive approach. British companies should focus on the opportunity that leaving the EU offers and how we can make the most of our resource sustainable position.”

A good example here, he points out, is steel. With annual consumption (12 Mt) versus annual arisings (11.5 Mt), this market could be much more ‘circular’ than the existing export of scrap/import of finished products model. Similarly, demand creation for the use of recycled polymers in new automotive, electrical and building products could encourage further investment in more processing plants like Axion’s.

While material quality controls, such as REACH regulations and other standards, should remain ‘mirrored with Europe’, Roger suggests there could be an opportunity to ‘take the lead by designing and implementing a set of regulatory measures that drive the transition to a circular economy here’.

Such measures could involve heavily-modulated producer responsibility obligations for brands that make the most effort to change to fully recyclable designs and/or utilise high levels of recycled content. “This would require vision and a brave government with strong leadership” observes Roger, “but in an uncertain world; what’s certain is that material would be available in the UK for use in the UK!”

One of the long-term benefits of Brexit, he says, should be that we can stop mass exports of waste plastic packaging and WEEE, and start investing in recycling infrastructure in the UK as an ‘environmental goal’. While 63% of collected UK plastic packaging resources is currently exported, the country is short of around 10 to 15 large-scale recycling plants to handle that volume.

Plus, we don’t have enough energy-from-waste capacity to handle the low-grade reject plastic stream produced by those plants – around 50% of their waste infeed tonnage. So strategic government thinking and stable long-term policy measures and clear goals for the five to ten years’ will be needed to drive this change.

Roger suggests that there is an opportunity for the UK Government to drive the development of recycling demonstration and pilot ‘pathfinder’ plants once we are free of ’state aid’ regulations that prevent preferential treatment by governments.

He adds: “UK businesses need to wake up to these future possibilities and start talking to suppliers like us that can offer a secure supply of material. It’s competitive on price, performs to the same standard as virgin material – and it’s low carbon!”

“We’ve seen an increase an enquiries in recent months and there’s a lot of interest from UK manufacturers in what we can offer. Despite current uncertainty around Brexit, we remain upbeat about the opportunities to trigger more material moving within the circular economy in the UK!”

Recovinyl: 2017 PVC recycling figures continue to rise

The collection and recycling of waste PVC throughout Europe, including the UK, reached a new high of 639,648 tonnes in 2017, according to latest industry figures.

Recovinyl®, the PVC industry’s recycling scheme, was the largest contributor to this total and registered a total of 633,127 tonnes of recycled PVC waste in 2017. While this represented a 13% increase from 2016 with increased volumes recorded in France and Italy, recyclers reported a shortage of post-consumer window profiles for recycling in the UK.

Recovinyl is an initiative by the European PVC value-chain aimed at facilitating PVC waste collection and recycling. Created in 2003 as part of Vinyl 2010, the predecessor of VinylPlus®, its aim is to advance the sustainable development of the PVC industry by boosting the collection and recycling of waste.

Today, as part of the VinylPlus voluntary commitment to sustainable development of the European PVC industry, Recovinyl has a broader mission. Its activities extend to optimising the resource efficiency of the PVC industry by mediating between recyclers and converters to establish a trustworthy relationship and material flow.

Recovinyl’s target is to stimulate and certify the recycling of 800,000 tonnes of PVC waste by 2020 as one of the challenges set in the VinylPlus Voluntary Commitment. VinylPlus has also recently committed to recycle and certify the use of at least 900,000 tonnes of PVC per year into new products by 2025, securing PVC’s place at the heart of the Circular Economy.

Furthermore, VinylPlus has also committed to recycling a minimum of one million tonnes per year by 2030.

PVC is a strong, versatile and readily-recyclable material widely used in many modern building products; the most familiar in this sector being window frames, fascias and soffits. Since their introduction to this country around 40 years ago, PVC-U windows and doors have been installed in millions of homes throughout the UK.

Developments in design, materials and construction have greatly improved the aesthetics, thermal-efficiency and security of these popular products over recent decades. As homeowners have substituted their older and often single-glazed windows with modern versions, this growing ‘replacing the replacements’ market has resulted in corresponding growth in PVC recycling infrastructure.

Previously there was little or no recycling infrastructure in place to accept waste PVC-U frames, which were sent to landfill. Since 2003 when Recovinyl was created, and 2005 when it was established in the UK, more PVC waste is being recycled.

PVC can be recycled multiple times without any loss of performance and reused in many diverse new and long-life products from construction products such as windows to flooring and electrical components.

Richard McKinlay, Head of Circular Economy at Axion, Recovinyl’s Regional Representative for the UK, says:

“Recovinyl continues to deliver impressive sustainable achievements in recycling a valuable material that was once consigned to landfill. On-going investment in recycling infrastructure, strong commitment from the construction sector and growing demand from manufacturers for good recycled material are all key factors.”

“For fabricators and installers, recycling PVC makes ‘complete sense’” says Richard: “With a recycling network across the UK, it’s a convenient way to save you money on landfill disposal, it protects the environment and it’s the right thing to do.”

“Whether you are a fabricator or an installer, you could save money by recycling your waste PVC and Recovinyl can help you to do this. Look on the Recovinyl website to find your local recycler.”

VEKA Recycling was one of the first Recovinyl recyclers in the UK, opening their Kent facility in 2007, followed by further investment in a Wellingborough plant in 2018. Working with strategic collection partners throughout the UK, it offers a reliable recycling service for recycling PVC frames and post-production off-cuts.

Simon Scholes, Commercial Director at VEKA Recycling says that the ‘increasing professionalism’ of the PVC recycling industry is contributing to the material’s sustainability and its value as a waste resource that can be recycled.

“There is greater awareness in the window industry that PVC can be recycled and we welcome the fact that profile manufacturers recognise this and are responding by recycling more. Investment is making the PVC recycling industry more professional and is helping to bring sustainability to the industry as a whole.”

Commenting on the VinylPlus report of a shortage of post-consumer PVC frames for recycling in the UK, Simon continues: “It’s good that there are several large recyclers hungry for feedstock as we are all after a finite amount of waste PVC. A number of factors are influencing supply, such as Brexit uncertainty, the market flattening and companies working smarter and producing less waste. But there’s no simple answer.”

“While the market may have stabilised, demand for PVC recyclate continues to rise and the construction industry has much to gain economically and environmentally by sending waste PVC for recycling.”

Cumulatively, 4.2 million tonnes of PVC have been recycled through the VinylPlus framework across Europe since 2000. Building on this, Recovinyl’s strategy continues with consolidating and increasing the steady supply of PVC waste being recycled in Europe by creating demand – a ‘pull-market’ for recycled PVC material – from the converting industry.

Axion Polymers invests in product development laboratory facilities

Axion Polymers has invested in more laboratory test equipment at its Salford site, including a new injection moulder, that will enable a greater range of polymer testing and further development of recycled polymer grades.

Axion’s in-house test capability now includes a Fourier Transform mid -infrared spectrometer for analysing the composition of black and dark-coloured polymer chips, a near-infrared multi-chip spectrometer for rapid analysis of large quantities of polymer chips and an X-Ray fluorescence analyser for heavy metals and bromine.

The laboratory also has a notched Izod impact tester, a tensile tester and a lab-scale injection moulder to produce test pieces and evaluate moulding performance.

Axion’s Salford plant refines plastics extracted from end-of-life vehicles at its nearby facility at Trafford Park, Manchester. The laboratory investment further enhances Axion’s technical capability in supplying tailored polymers to suit specific end-user requirements, such as modified melt flow, impact resistance and tensile strength.

According to Mark Keenan, Axion Polymers Business Development Manager, the new laboratory equipment ‘provides an improved range and accuracy of results for our customers’. “Optimising the performance and output data demonstrates our on-going commitment to quality, which is at the core of Axion Polymers’ principles,” he says.

“Being able to guarantee consistent quality results and product is so important to all our customers, most of which run their operations 24 hours a day. The new laboratory equipment will ensure we are able to do that.”

The laboratory facilities have been upgraded as part of improved quality control measures and technical product development. Pasika Chongcharoenthaweesuk, Axion’s Polymer Process Development Engineer explains:

“The investment in new laboratory test equipment allows us to achieve reliable data for our polymer quality and process control. This helps to optimise the process, not only to produce a consistent quality product but also to improve the quality and increase the throughput. This has opened up new opportunities for us to develop products suitable for other applications.”

Axion Polymers Commercial Operations Manager Laura Smith says the new injection moulding and test equipment allows the team to develop new grades faster. Laura says: “This investment is excellent for our laboratory as we are always developing new product grades as a result of customer requests. The new equipment enables us to provide much quicker results, thus providing better customer service.”

Targets for recycled content in food packaging need care

Setting minimum targets for recycled content in food packaging may sound like a good idea, but could lead to overall less efficient use of resources if material types and their applications are not carefully considered, cautions Richard McKinlay, Head of Circular Economy at Axion.

It’s widely acknowledged that to make recycling more economically viable, an end market ‘pull-effect’ is needed to create the demand for recycled material. Setting minimum ‘recycled content’ targets is one way of stimulating this demand.

Minimum ‘recycled content’ targets would be a positive step for many products, such as automotive parts, groundworks, piping and, in some cases, packaging. However, this approach could be counter-productive in areas such as polypropylene (PP) food packaging.

The technology and infrastructure is not currently available to produce food grade recycled PP from post-consumer household packaging. As a result, if minimum targets are introduced, in the short term, manufacturers would have to move from PP into polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

However, this presents a key issue with PET in pots, tubs and tray applications. As several WRAP studies have shown, the lower quality of PET recycled from pots, tubs and trays makes it unsuitable for many end-use applications. This means you might substitute a recyclable pack that’s good in every other way, but without recycled content, for a pack that may not be as good for recycling yet has recycled content.

Established markets for recycled PP already exist, such as automotive parts and furniture, and these markets can more easily increase recycled content than in packaging applications.

Although research is being done into sorting material using markers to sort food contact from non-food contact PP packaging, and PET thermoform recycling is progressing; in the short term brands, retailers and converters should be able to continue using PP without recycled content – and not be penalised for doing so.

Furthermore, I feel that given the challenges of including recycled content in flexible packaging, a minimum target would be a retrograde step. Manufacturers would be tempted to move back to rigid materials, such as glass or aluminium, which may impact negatively on the complete product lifecycle, through higher transportation costs for example.

Currently, we are in an interesting position where more effort is being put into developing recycling systems and the use of recycled materials. However, we cannot keep switching material format. It’s important that we do the best we can with current infrastructure based on complete product lifecycle economics.

Food safety is the most crucial aspect of packaging; perhaps we should encourage a circular economy approach where virgin polymer is used in food packaging, which is then recycled into non-food packaging and other long-life products.

It’s all about creative thinking around end applications and not worrying so much about closed-loop recycling. The automotive sector offers a big potential market for flexible PP in new end products, as well as secondary packaging applications, such as plastic delivery envelopes.

In the future, targets will be a great help, but we’re not quite there yet. We must ensure that we don’t take ‘one step forward and two steps back’.

Axion Polymers supports auto industry’s recycled plastics vision

Axion Polymers has supplied its 100% recycled polymer from end-of-life vehicles to help a leading automotive manufacturer demonstrate the use of sustainable components in new cars.

Axpoly PP polymer was blended 50/50 with a polypropylene recycled from packaging waste to achieve a specification required by vehicle designers for reuse in new vehicle components.

An initial sample of this plastic blend has been used successfully to mould both internal and external body parts for a new car in a collaborative demonstration project for Volvo Car Group involving more than 40 suppliers of vehicle components.

Axion’s strong technical expertise and continual development of high-quality recycled polymer grades that can replace virgin plastics in new cars supports the automotive industry in its transition from a ‘Linear’ to a Circular Economy.

At the Ocean Summit conference, held in June at Gothenburg, Sweden, Volvo Car Group set out its ambition that at least 25% of the plastics used in every newly-launched Volvo car will be made from recycled material after 2025. The car maker unveiled a specially-built version of its XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid SUV model which has over 170 plastic parts (circa 60 kilos) made out of recycled plastics in place of virgin polymers.

The recycled-plastics XC60 was revealed at the Ocean Summit during the Gothenburg Volvo Ocean Race stopover. The race’s focus on sustainability centres on a partnership with the United Nations Environment Clean Seas campaign, focussing on the call to action ‘Turn the Tide on Plastic’.

Keith Freegard, Associate Consultant at Axion Polymers, who attended the Ocean Summit conference, commented: “It was great to take part in the Ocean Summit debate and to see large multi-national organisations making strong commitments to tackle this worldwide and hugely-significant issue.”

As the main sponsor of the yacht race, Volvo Car Group has taken a ‘strong and leading’ position in its commitment to the increased use of sustainable materials in its vehicles, said Keith.

He added: “Seeing the ‘first adopters’ take the lead in such an important market as motor vehicles really gives me hope that the problem of ocean plastic pollution can be solved by taking such positive action for change.”

Axion Polymers hosts MEP’s fact-finding visit to recycling sites

Axion Polymers hosted a fact-finding visit to its two Manchester recycling facilities by the lead MEP and appointed Rapporteur for drawing up regulations on persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Julie Girling, MEP for South West England and Gibraltar, viewed the complex processes used to extract plastics from end-of-life vehicles at Axion’s Trafford Park and Salford sites during her tour in August.

Invited by Keith Freegard, she learnt how Axpoly® recycled polymers, derived from automotive shredder residue and electrical end-of-life feedstocks, are extracted and processed for use in a variety of new items, from drainage and ventilation products to vehicle components.

Plastic extracted from end-of-life vehicles at the Trafford Park facility is further refined at the Salford advanced processing plant. Both sites have undergone substantial investment in recent years, including new plant and laboratory facilities. These are driving growth and expanding Axion Polymers’ technical capability in supplying tailored polymers to suit specific end-user requirements, such as modified melt flow, impact resistance and tensile strength.

Concern is growing among plastics recyclers over a European Parliament proposal to set a concentration limit of 10ppm for the flame retardant decaBDE in substances and products that could negatively impact the recycling of plastics from vehicles and electronic equipment.

Keith stated: “Stricter controls on the export of low-grade waste plastics to unregulated countries should enable more investment in UK recycling, like we’ve already done. But I think that’s only going to happen by ‘demand-creating’ legislation which rewards manufacturers who demonstrate much higher levels of recycled plastics in their products; then we will see duplication of the type of plants that Axion has developed.

“A sensible and pragmatic limit is needed for the trace levels of banned BFRs in recycled plastics, to match those set under existing EU REACH regulations. That will allow for the growth of more waste plastics re-processing in Europe, but a 10ppm limit is a very big challenge.”

An ongoing study by a joint working group aims to define the position of the EU on this low POP content trace limit value. The safe limit values for both waste plastics and products made from recycled polymer under the UN’s Stockholm Convention are yet to be agreed. The next Conference of the Parties of the Stockholm and Basel Conventions will take place during 2019 where a decision is expected.

Julie, who has been dealing with recycling legislation for 10 years as an MEP, commented: “The tour was really interesting; it’s important that these companies are supported. I’ve gained further understanding of how recycling works in practice and the implications of increasing plastic’s recyclability to prevent it from ending up in the oceans.

“There’s no reason why one piece of plastic waste from Europe should be in an ocean anywhere. But in order to prevent that we have to make significant investment in developing our European recycling business and we’ve been discussing the different pieces of legislation that go towards that; some of which is very important to Axion’s business.”

Julie added: “Recycling is something that we all want to do. Not many people are prepared to accept that it’s expensive, requires a huge amount of capital investment and the payback has to be given some certainty and the only way to do that is through legislation, which is why we need to discuss the content of the legislation in some detail.”

Axion’s Jane Gardner leaves to take up European flooring role

Jane Gardner, Head of Axion’s Consulting Services, will be leaving at the end of August 2018 to take up a new senior pan-European role.

One of Axion’s earliest employees, Jane is moving to her next career challenge as Managing Director of the European Resilient Flooring Institute (ERFMI) based in Brussels.

Axion Director Roger Morton said: “This is a role she is well-qualified to take on; quite an achievement for a Brit to be asked to take on such a job in these Brexit days!”

“We are very sad to see Jane leave Axion; she was one of our earliest employees. She has been the driving force behind the development of the many successful recycling collection schemes that we manage and has led and delivered numerous other novel recycling projects for many different clients over the past 15 years.”

Jane joined Axion in 2006 as a Project Co-ordinator, having previously worked as a sub-contractor doing German-English translations and other project related activities. Initially responsible for administration relating to Recovinyl, she secured repeat contracts for managing this successful PVC Recycling scheme.

Alongside this, she set up Recofloor, the UK’s vinyl flooring recycling scheme, RecoMed, a UK-wide take-back scheme that recycles PVC used in healthcare and the management of Carpet Recycling UK. All of her schemes have won numerous awards over the years.

The industry collection schemes will now be led by Richard McKinlay, Axion’s Head of Circular Economy and supported by the rest of the team.

Carpet Recycling UK will continue to be managed overall by Axion, spearheaded by Adnan Zeb-Khan as CRUK Scheme Manager. Adnan, who has over 20 years of experience in the waste sector, will work with Marie Rhodes and the rest of the CRUK team to continue to drive forward the diversion of carpets from landfill.

Roger added: “All of us wish Jane well in her new role and I know she will continue to contribute to the circular economy by lobbying for effective legislation in Europe. I am sure we will be working closely with her in the future to our mutual benefit.”

Axion launches new packaging recyclability training service

Axion has launched a new service aimed at improving knowledge within the plastic packaging value chain and helping the hard-pressed industry to understand what design choices it can make for their packaging to be recyclable.

We are offering an in-house bespoke training course to educate staff from across the sector on waste management operations in the UK and Europe.

Richard McKinlay, Head of Circular Economy, says that with the industry facing heavy pressure to ensure packaging is ‘recyclable’, many firms are looking to make all of their packaging recyclable or compostable within a set time limit. Yet there exists a ‘huge knowledge gap’ of what ‘recyclable’ actually means.

“This is a new area for many companies, they are not waste management or recycling organisations,” he points out. “They may not understand why they certain design choices are important. Crucially, they may not know what decisions to take for packaging to be recyclable.”

So much of the chain which dictates recyclability is outside the direct control of brands, retailers and converters, says Richard, but they are expected to act on positively improving the sustainability of their packaging products.

The course covers what infrastructure is in place, how sorting and recycling processes work and how packaging design impacts this, plus the realities of exporting waste and barriers to recycling.

In 2017, the UK exported 66% of plastic packaging waste collected for recycling – nearly 700,000 tonnes. Much of this is exported to Asia, where poorer and less-developed facilities mean there is a much higher risk of pollution and leakage into the environment.

Richard continues: “If you don’t understand the basics of why certain design choices need to be made, then ensuring your packaging can be recycled is impossible.”

Banning straws and other single-use plastic in the UK will have no effect on ocean plastics, he claims, adding: “To address that, we must tackle the issue of exporting huge quantities of material. The only way to do this is a complete supply chain approach and understanding where we stand today, where we need to be and, most importantly, how to get there.”

S Norton & Co acquires 100% equity stake in Axion Recycling Ltd

On 20th June 2018 S Norton & Co Ltd purchased the entire share capital of Axion Recycling Ltd from the five individual, private investors who have owned Axion since July 2006. This means that Axion Recycling Ltd and the business units trading as Axion Polymers and Axion Consulting are now a wholly owned subsidiary of the S Norton group.

On the same date Keith Freegard resigned from his position on the board as Marketing Director and terminated his full-time employment with Axion. Keith has made an amicable agreement with the new shareholders to continue working on key projects and areas where his experience and knowledge can provide most benefit, under a part-time consultancy agreement for the next 12 months.

Dr Roger Morton will continue as Director with Axion. His role will not change. The rest of the management team at Axion Polymers will remain unchanged and the Axion Consulting staff will continue with business as usual on all projects and service contracts. Customers, suppliers and Axion’s own staff will see no change in the way that business is carried out and the Axion team will carry on delivering service and products to their normal high standards of quality and performance.

The company will trade under the same name and all commercial transactions will continue in the same manner as before. John Norton, Chairman of S Norton said: “We are pleased to announce this change in ownership of Axion Recycling because it clarifies and consolidates the working arrangements between S Norton and the Axion sites.

“We will continue to support the company policy and strategy for sales growth of all products, while at the same time increasing added-value and profitability. We look forward to a successful future based on this strengthened relationship.”

Keith said: “I am immensely proud of the sustainable business that the Axion team has created over the past 16 years and to have grown a successful company in the resource recovery sector that delivers the Circular Economy, today, while most organisations are only just beginning to think about it.

“The team of people running the process plants and recycling operations are very competent and well-motivated, so much so that my full-time input is no longer needed! This change in ownership further strengthens the long-term sustainability of the ‘grave-to-cradle’ business model that S Norton and Axion can deliver for UK industry and I am sure that growth in product output and new business developments will continue at a similar pace.”

He added: “I am happy to maintain an active link with the team at Axion through my part-time consultancy role and I also look forward to finding some new opportunities in the exciting waste resource recycling sector.”

Government ‘clutching at straws’ over waste plastic exports

exported plastic

In banning plastic drinking straws, coffee cups and other single-use plastic, the UK Government and NGOs seem to be ignoring the really big issue – the exportation of waste plastics that are ending up in the world’s oceans.

While politicians continue to follow the current UK media hype surrounding these ‘local issues’, they are failing to see the bigger picture and implement strategies that could provide economically-viable solutions to the growing pollution crisis.

“The actual tonnages of these minor fractions of single-use plastics are tiny in comparison to the BIG issue,” says Keith Freegard, Axion Director; a viewpoint that is shared by other industry experts.

The UK traditionally exports around 450,000 tonnes per annum of plastic packaging waste to Asia. The graph below shows the dramatic fall in exports to China in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017 and huge jump in exports to other Asian countries.

China’s National Sword ban on imported plastic waste has resulted in hundreds of containers being shipped to other Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.

“82% of ocean plastic originates in Asia Pacific countries,” continues Keith. “If we were worried about standards of residual waste disposal in China, then we should be even more concerned about waste treatment infrastructure in these less-developed countries. This, of course, begs the question ‘how much of the 450,000 tonne pa is actually unrecyclable?”

“Sadly I think, along with many others in this industry, that quite a significant percentage of plastic waste from the UK householders’ kerbside collection stream is ending up in rivers, and subsequently the oceans. Rather than wasting taxpayers’ money on a plastic straw consultation, what UK government should be doing is finding out exactly how much of the exported waste to all those countries is being turned into really high-grade plastic.

“And what is happening to the fraction that is not being properly recycled? Around 15 to 20%, I guess. Is that going straight into the oceans? If it is, we’ve got a dreadful system!”

Sharing Keith’s views is Jessica Baker, Director at Chase Plastics Ltd, a UK plastics reprocessing company with more than 50 years’ experience. Jessica asserts: “Banning straws and other single-use plastic when the oceans are filling with our exported plastic is like fiddling while Rome burns. It will do very little to change the problem of plastics in our oceans.”

“If we think we have found a new home for the low grade mixed plastic waste that China did not want, should we not be concerned that it might be inundating countries that already have a much poorer environmental record than China, and will struggle to cope to actually reprocess all this material?”

“The reality is that plastic needs to be sorted into its separate polymers and formats in order to facilitate final reprocessing back into reusable pellets, but as long as we keep sending poorly sorted plastic overseas for reprocessing a significant proportion of this mix will end up in open landfill, the rivers and then oceans overseas.”

The solution, she suggests, is to make products more recyclable, collect these and reprocess them in the UK, adding: “Exported plastics should be of a sorted, single polymer stream or format so that overseas reprocessors do not have to re-sort it and throw out what they can’t use. Only this is going to address our contribution to the problem of ocean plastic.”

Phil Conran from 360 Environmental echoed these concerns. “It is clear that plastics are being exported that would fail the Transfrontier Shipment Regulations quality requirements if containers were checked. We know that even farm plastics are currently leaving the country in significant quantities and these can contain over 50% contamination. One of the issues we face is a very loose export control system with little information available to the Agencies before material is exported. Exporters of green list material have no legal requirement to submit documentation and consequently, the Agencies are left looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. There is urgent need for export regulatory reform alongside measures to address the vast amount of unrecycled plastic that make a much greater contribution to global ocean litter that these small volume items.”

So what can be done? In conclusion, Keith suggests the authorities should follow the price of exported plastics to accurately measure the true levels of contaminants in waste plastics leaving the UK. He points out that some low-grade mixed plastics cost a ‘gate fee’ to export; yet will contain high percentages of waste in the bales. Many exporters are simply accessing ‘low-cost, poorly-regulated waste disposal routes’ in third-world countries. What we need is a much more rigorous and thorough methodology to accurately measure and quantify the split between ‘recyclable’ plastics and the tonnes of ‘unrecyclable’ waste in the containers leaving our shores.

“In the UK we’re already 15 to 20 years late in reacting to this issue and turning it into an economic growth opportunity. Unless our government recognise what dreadful environmental damage this huge waste export stream might be doing, and start to put in place some clear legislative drivers that underpin the growth of an economically viable plastics recycling industry, only then can we be truly responsible for the waste that we produce.”

“It’s no longer good enough to export it overseas, and hope for the best, we’ve got to be seen to be recycling as much as we can through well-regulated businesses operating under our own legislative waste structure,” he adds.

“This is so much more important than cotton buds and straws. We are sending our collected plastics out of sight and out of mind. The UK Government has to address this moral issue – and stop wasting time on a drinking straw consultation!”