Southampton City Council fact sheet
PET (Polyethylene Terephalate), Number 1
HDPE ( High Density Polyethylene), Number 2
Tops should be removed from bottles as they can occasionally contain nylon sealing washers which are difficult to remove as part of the recycling process.
The process of recycling the bottles is very simple and involves shredding into small pieces, followed by hot and cold washing to remove labels, glue and contaminants. The shredded “flake” is then heated and moulded into pellets which are then used in the manufacture of new products.
WHY IS IT EASY TO RECYCLE PLASTIC BOTTLES?
Plastic bottles are a very mature type of packaging with manufacturing and material type standards that are comparable worldwide. Plastic bottles are ideal for recycling as they are made from a small number of easily identifiable plastic types, have a wide range of markets, and we are now seeing this market developing advanced closed loop systems in the UK. A vast number of plastic bottles, collected for recycling in the UK, will soon be processed in the UK into new plastic bottles. Closed loop in London are developing a facility to process, up to 35,000 tonnes of recycled PET (fizzy drink and squash bottles) back into food grade recycled bottles for Boots and Marks and Spencer. Dairy Crest based in Telford is currently working on a similar type project to recycle used plastic milk bottles back into recycled milk bottles.
A big advantage with bottles is that once they are separated out into the individual plastic types PET / HDPE / PVC each type is made of broadly the same polymer mix and standard which makes reprocessing much easier. Bottles are a more mature type of plastic packaging that have common industry standards that allow bottles that have been manufactured, almost world wide to be sold and recycled in the UK.
WHY IS IT DIFFICULT TO RECYCLE OTHER FORMS OF PLASTIC PACKAGING?
Unfortunately other forms of plastic packaging are comparatively new to the market, compared to plastic bottles, and are made of a wide range of plastic mixes with next to no recycling capacity in the UK. Although some authorities do collect these types of plastic they are predominately exported for processing and currently this practice is subject to review by the Environment Agency due to contamination issues and will probably decline.
There are processors that will take some types of plastic packaging “pre-consumer” such as off cuts from a manufacturing process or unused items. This is primarily due to them being clean and unused and this significantly reduces quality problems with future manufacturing.
The reprocessors are geared up for sorting and processing plastic bottles only, their equipment has been designed to sort, wash and flake plastic bottles and they will not accept any other type of plastic.
Plastic food trays and the like are a much newer type of packaging and there doesn’t seem to be these common industry standards and this is reflected in the lack of reprocessing facilities. The other problem is that similar looking food trays can be made out of a range of plastic types and within that different polymer mixes and colours
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT THE PROBLEM OF NON BOTTLE PLASTICS?
Project Integra who represent all the Hampshire local authorities on general waste related issues are attending a number of meetings with representatives from the Packaging Industry and WRAP (waste resources action programme) on this very issue.
However this is a very complex issue and a number of options are under general discussion such as:
• Closing the loop by making these other forms of plastic packaging out of a smaller range of plastic types with defined quality standards to stimulate local UK reprocessing.
• The option for Supermarkets to increase the range of materials that they take back from there customers and arrange to have it recycled or composted as appropriate
WHAT IS THE PACKAGING INDUSTRY DOING ABOUT THIS?
This is really one for the plastic packaging chain (from manufacturer to the seller of the goods) to sort out with the plastic reprocessors to make these types of plastics more recyclable and to assist financially.
WHY DON’T WE QUOTE THE POLYMER NUMBERS ON OUR RECYCLING LITERATURE?
Originally our literature asked residents to recycle plastic bottles by checking the symbols and only putting in bottles marked with a 1, 2 or 3. Unfortunately plastic food trays and similar are also marked with both the 1, 2,3 or 5 symbol and a recycling symbol and are made of the same family of plastic as plastic bottles.
We have therefore changed our literature to asking residents to recycle all household plastic bottles and not worry about the symbols. Our message is now to just put in all household plastic bottles, minus tops, but no other household plastic.
WHY SHOULD THE TOPS BE REMOVED
There are two main reasons why tops should be removed, these being:
• Some bottles contain nylon washers inside the caps, used to seal the top onto the bottle, the reprocessors find that the nylon washer is difficult to separate from the bottle top. The washer if not removed will effect the quality of the flake produced and this was a large problem some 10 years ago when most bottles had a nylon washer. Today with improved manufacturing techniques not as many bottles contain sealing wasters, the most notable who still does being lucozade.
• The other main reason is that ideally bottles should be flat to enable them to be properly sorted at the local sorting plant at Alton, in Hampshire, and then baled for onward shipping to market.
The main reason for specifying no tops used to be due to the nylon washer, this is now a much smaller issue, however it is still very helpful in the sorting and baling process if the tops are removed.
CAN GOVERNMENT DO ANYTHING ABOUT THIS?
The UK Government have introduced producer responsibility regulations under the European packaging directive. Unfortunately, in the UK, it is an industry led scheme and although it has increased the levels of packaging recycled at minimal costs it has not stimulated either UK processing capacity or influenced product design.
In Germany under producer responsibility (E.U. law), where the plastic packaging industry (manufacturer to the seller of the goods), subsidises the recycling of plastic packaging e.g. food trays and film, under the green dot scheme, the levels of subsidy are much higher. Currently, in the UK, there are no major financial pressures to either change or recycle lightweight non-bottle packaging.
Last updated: 16 June 2010