BPI warns Govt over ‘unachievable’ plastic recycling targets

Posted on 13 Dec 2012 by Tim Brown

At the launch of its new £2m co-extrusion line, British Polythene Industries warned government that increased plastics recycling targets will increase costs, damage existing recovery infrastructure and lead to recycling fraud.

At a formal ceremony attended by the Minister of State for Business & Enterprise, Rt Hon Michael Fallon MP, BPI Films Managing Director, Andrew Green, thanked the Minister for his support of the Sevenoaks factory during the last 15 years. However, he warned that the proposed increases to recycling targets may have unintended consequences.

Green said his company had “no issue” with stretching recycling targets. “Indeed as the largest recycler of polythene film waste in Europe, we actively support stretching recycling targets. Our concern with the (new) targets as now set by DEFRA is that they are unachievable.”

The UK has increased the amount of plastic waste it recycles by 500,000 tonnes in the last 13 years. The new targets require the packaging industry to increase the volumes of plastic waste collected and recycled by a further 600,000 tonnes within the next 5 years. Green said that to achieve the Government targets, the UK would need to become the biggest recycler of plastic bottles, pots, tubs, trays and plastic film in the EU.

“The one area where the UK is currently top is that we have the highest proportion of our plastic waste, currently 70%, exported for recycling overseas,” said Green. “This is neither environmentally nor commercially sustainable.

“Having such a high proportion of our recycling activity dependent on overseas, and generally Far East recyclers, is a significant risk factor in meeting our targets and has been responsible for the export of UK jobs in recycling for a number of years.”

In a warning to all ‘players’ in the food sector including retailers, packers and producers,  Green continued: “The consequences of failing to hit these unrealistic targets in 2017 is that we will see huge and disproportionate costs to businesses handling plastic packaging over the next few years as we fall short. It will also create a huge incentive for fraudulent activity generating evidence of plastic reprocessing. Ultimately, it could undermine all the positive work our industry has achieved over the last 15 years by once again appearing to the general public as if plastic packaging is a problem, rather than part of the solution.”

The potential for recycling fraud

Green said he is concerned that the Packaging Waste Recovery Note (PRN), otherwise known as certificates of recycling evidence, will be a focus for fraudsters should companies fall short of recycling targets.

The PRN certificates are generated by accredited re-processors when packaging waste is recycled or recovered. The PRN system enables obligated companies to fund packaging recovery and recycling costs by purchasing the right number of PRNs to match their packaging obligation.

The money used to purchase PRNs is reinvested back into the recycling system to help increase collection and recycling capacity; it also helps to fund the research of end markets. PRNs are an investment tool which ensure that recycling and recovery continues to grow.

PRNs are sold on the open market and can be purchased by obligated companies as evidence to prove that they have met their calculated obligation.

In October 2012, Nationwide Recycling was found guilty of PRN fraud in a case brought by the Environment Agency.

Swansea Crown court convicted the Neath-based company on Friday (October 8) of three offences. This included issuing packaging waste recovery notes (PRNs) for waste which had not been received between January 1 2009 and October 1 2010, contrary to the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007.

According to www.letsrecycle.com, an investigation into Nationwide Recycling found that the company had weighed plant, machinery and lorries to generate false weighbridge tickets and invoices for recycled materials that were never in fact received by it for recycling.

The Agency said the company also falsified registrations of proposed vehicles bringing waste to the site. Following a vehicle check with the DVLA, the investigation found one vehicle to be a Harley Davidson motorbike that had allegedly carried 20 tonnes of glass into the site.

This led to an estimated financial gain of over £2m through the fraudulent issue of Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs) for materials that were neither received nor recycled.