Realising the value of recovered plastics an update

Monday 23 August 2010

Welcome to the recovered plastic market situation report update, part of our series of reports that examine current economic conditions in the markets for recovered materials.

We published our first plastic market situation report in late 2007. This update looks at the key developments in the UK markets for recovered plastic since that report was published including trends in collections, existing and planned domestic reprocessing capacity, export markets, prices and legislative issues.

Key themes to emerge from the plastics recycling sector are:
  • in 2009, an estimated 900,000 tonnes of plastics was collected for recycling. Of this, 590,000 tonnes was plastic packaging;
  • over 700,000 tonnes of recovered plastics were exported for recycling in 2009, predominantly to China. About two-thirds of this is estimated to be packaging. The primary trading route for material destined for China continued to be via Hong Kong;
  • the plastic bottle recycling rate now stands at over 40% and there has been extensive investment in UK plastic bottle processing capacity over the past two years;
  • attention has now turned to collecting and developing infrastructure to recycle mixed packaging plastics, less than 5% of which is currently recycled. Around 20% of local authorities already operate kerbside mixed plastic collections, and 2011 will see the operation of the UK’s first mixed plastic reprocessing facility;
  • demand for food-grade recovered polymers currently outstrips supply. With demand likely to strengthen further, this represents an opportunity for UK manufacturers of recovered polymers;
  • recycling of non-packaging plastics has also increased in recent years, largely as a result of regulatory drivers; and
  • prices for recovered plastics have been volatile over the past two years, but currently stand close to, and in some cases higher than, the peaks they reached in mid 2008.

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