50 percent increase: UK Plastic packaging recovering has grown rapidly

PETtoPET-Anlage (Foto: PET-to-PET)

Banbury, UK — The amount of plastic packaging recovered for recycling has grown rapidly in recent years. This includes a sharp increase in recycling of plastic packaging (up more than 50 per cent since 2009), the introduction of mixed plastic collections by the majority of local authorities (up to an estimated 67 per cent in 2014/15) and light-weighting by brands and retailers. These are the key figures of the new Plastics Market Situation Report that joins a series of reports that examine current economic conditions and trends in the markets for recovered materials.

According to the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD), around 891,000 tonnes of plastic packaging was recycled in 2015, an increase of more than 50 per cent since the previous Plastics Market Situation Report reported on data in 2009 . Based on the current plastic packaging arising estimate of 2.2 million tonnes this equates to a recycling rate of 40 per cent in 2015. Plastic packaging compliance data shows that UK plastic packaging reprocessing has almost doubled since 2010 to approximately 330,000 tonnes in 2015. In contrast exports of plastic packaging for recycling have grown much slower, by one-third to just over 560,000 tonnes.

The largest end market for UK recovered plastic packaging in 2014 was back into packaging, representing just over 60 per cent (split 40/60 between food/non-food contact packaging). The construction sector is estimated to represent 16 per cent of end market demand, automotive 3 per cent and others representing 19 per cent. In turn recovered PET packaging represents just over one-third of the plastic packaging recycled in the UK, both HDPE and low density polyethylene (LDPE) have a 27 per cent share while PP accounts for 7 per cent. WRAP research estimates that polystyrene (PS) recycling in the UK is negligible.


An estimated 110,000 tonnes of PET packaging is recycled in the UK (14 per cent of PET POM), including some 95,000 tonnes of primarily clear PET bottles and around 15,000 tonnes of clear PET trays. The main UK end market application for PET is sheet (accounting for around two-thirds) with bottle to bottle accounting for the remaining one-third. Very little PET from UK plastic recyclers is thought to go into fibre applications (e.g. textiles).


An estimated 90,000 tonnes of HDPE POM bottles is recycled in the UK (17 per cent of HDPE POM). The largest end market for recovered HDPE in the UK is packaging (~80 per cent) with other UK end markets including construction (mainly pipes), and to a lesser extent automotive industries. Strapping (used to wrap products in transit) and plastic products used in the construction and horticulture industry are thought to be stable UK end markets for the UK’s recovered plastic.

Marcus Gover, Director at WRAP, judged: “This report provides much needed clarity to some of the challenges the sector has faced recently as well as confidence on where to invest next. Plastic recyclers don’t have to wait for oil prices to rise again. There are markets out there that will work that aren’t linked to oil prices. It’s about keeping costs low, not overreaching and identifying an end product to sell the reprocessed materials into.”

The background: In mid-2015 Plastics 2020 and WRAP launched the Plastics Industry Recycling Action Plan (PIRAP) to help achieve both existing UK and future EU plastic packaging recycling targets. The primary purpose of PIRAP is to establish co-operation across the entire waste plastics supply chain, including local authorities, waste management companies, plastics reprocessors, compliance schemes and businesses obligated under the Waste Packaging Regulations. Through a series of agreed and co-ordinated actions PIRAP should ensure that an increasing volume of end of life waste plastics is successfully recycled into sustainable second life applications.

The full report can be downloaded under wrap.org.uk.

Source: Waste & Resource Action Programme (WRAP)