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How Biffa’s latest investment in Durham will benefit the UK’s plastic recycling infrastructure.

The UK uses 13 billion plastic bottles each year yet only 57% of those bottles enter the recycling system via household recycling collections. (British Plastics Federation) You may have read that statistic before but what you might not know is that the 5.5 billion plastic bottles that escape household recycling collection every year had a potential value of around £18 million*

Instead of being processed and sold as recycled materials, used in the production of additional plastic bottles, those 5.5 billion bottles have likely become litter or thrown away as general waste - disposed of in landfill, incinerated or exported abroad.

90% of plastic materials leaving Biffa’s recycling facilities go to UK businesses with the rest going to Europe to be recycled but more could be done overall to invest in Britain’s recycling infrastructure, that’s why Biffa have invested £15 million in a new PET recycling facility in Durham.

Plastic waste from business and household recycling collections will firstly be sorted from other materials, such as paper, metal and glass at one of Biffa’s state of the art Materials Recycling Facilities (MRFs) before being transported Biffa Polymers site for processing.

This facility will assist commercial and domestic recycling efforts to help achieve targets set out by the government’s Resource and Waste Strategy. It will occupy a 130,000 sq ft vacant warehouse at Foxcover Distribution Park and is capable of recycling more than one billion plastics drinks bottles a year.

Plastic has many benefits when disposed of responsibly

This new facility isn’t Biffa’s first investment in Britain’s plastic recycling infrastructure. In 2008, Biffa Polymers constructed the world’s first commercially available rHDPE food grade production plant. The facility is designed to process 50k tonnes of material through its three business processes, a groundbreaking process which creates a High-Density Polyethylene from recycled milk bottles. These plastic pellets can be used again and again to manufacture new milk bottles.

85% of milk bottles in the UK contain Biffa material

Two years later Biffa Polymers achieved the Queen’s Award for Excellence in Innovation. To date, Biffa’s polymers facility has reprocessed over 3 billion plastic bottles.

Biffa’s new plastic facility will be processing a slightly different plastic to milk bottles known as polyethene terephthalate, more commonly referred to as PET. PET is a strong, synthetic substance used to make food packaging including plastic drinks bottles.

The production of single-use plastic bottles has become a concern over the recent years due to its environmental impact when plastic bottles fail to enter the recycling process. However, PET plastic is 100% recyclable and can be used multiple times to make new bottles or items like clothes, sleeping bags, and construction material.

When plastic bottles are littered or find their way into general waste becoming contaminated, they are often unable to be meet the high standards needed for food packaging and are therefore deposited in landfill, incinerated or exported abroad.

70% of soft drinks are packaged in PET plastic bottles because PET food packaging offers a wide range of benefits

PET plastic has a range of benefits not only for manufacturers but for consumers. Plastic bottles are:

Lightweight Lightweight materials reduce the weight applied to a vehicle, meaning fewer emissions are emitted from vehicles during transportation.

Safe Plastic is safer for transport as it won’t shatter or break easily; this not only makes it safer for those handling the product but also reduces waste.

Convenient PET bottles are lightweight with an element of flexibility making them ideal for on-the-go. A glass bottle or metal can isn’t as easily transportable in a bag, especially once opened.

Cost-effective PET plastic is cost-effective to produce and therefore more affordable for the consumers

Re-sealable Unlike metal, plastic bottles are suitable for multi-serve packs therefore reducing potential waste.

Recyclable PET can be reused multiple times as long as it’s disposed of correctly.

Sustainable PET bottles do not need additional virgin materials for recycling. There are increasing numbers of PET plastic bottles made from recycled PET rather than virgin materials.

Distinctive Plastic can be moulded into different shapes, enabling brands to use them to build identity and promote drinks

Plastic recycling advances

Through innovation and new developments, the manufacturing industry is continually improving its environmental impact. In 15 years, PET plastic bottles are now 30% lighter, reducing emissions during transport as well as increasing the amount of recycled plastic used to manufacture new bottles.

Biffa Polymers is a member of the UK Plastics Pack, working closely with WRAP and industry stakeholders to improve plastic packaging, collections, sorting and processing. The manufacturing industry is also working with organisations such as RECOUP on further innovation in the design of plastic bottles. 99% of UK Local Authorities now offer a kerbside collection service which includes plastic recycling. According to RECOUP plastic bottles make up 67% of household plastic packaging collections, an increased by over 2,000% since 2001.

In addition to recycling centres and kerbside collection, plastic bottles are also recycled ‘on- the-go’ with an increased number of bins located in public areas such as shopping centres, high streets and parks. 49% of councils offer “on-the-go” recycling bins in public places but many councils cite cross contamination as a primary reason for not providing public recycling bins, highlighting a need for more prominent information for consumers on what can and can’t be recycled.

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