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True circularity could elude UK

February 8, 2018

The Director General of the British Plastics Federation has said that “true circularity” in the UK economy is “likely to be unattainable”, according to ICIS.

While producers of plastic products in the UK “are committed to increased recycling rates”, Director General Phillip Law has warned that “true circularity” may not be achievable, adding that “once the UK leaves the EU in 2019 the country should “shadow” the 28-country bloc’s environmental policies”. This includes the recycling targets put in place by the European Commission last month, when the Commission stated that it “wants all plastics used in the EU to be recyclable by 2030, with 55 percent of them being actually recycled.”

Law also stated that “the EU’s target of a circular economy where everything is reused would be an unreachable target.”

“The ‘circular economy’ is a concept, just like ‘sustainability’. It all depends on what you mean by circular economy. With the degree of international trade and competitive advantage of some locations over others, there is bound to be some leakage from the system. The Holy Grail of achieving ‘true sustainability’ or ‘true circularity’ is probably unattainable,” said Law.

“The key thing is to embark on the journey towards it and persist. This, the plastics industry has been doing in spades. It uses only a limited fraction of oil and gas and it brings enormous benefits in use, for example through lightweighting and energy savings in vehicles and aircraft and in insulating buildings.”

Law revealed that “current plastics are mostly based on carbon and hydrogen” as the production of these remains “more convenient” than that of biobased feedstocks, the use of which remains “residual.”

“There are a number of possible reasons [for the small use of biobased feedstocks]. One is that not everywhere in the world can crops be grown on the scale required to produce bioplastics. Also there have been concerns about using edible crops for the manufacture of an industrial material when some areas of the world and some sections of society are short of food,” he said.

“It is difficult to make valid life-cycle comparisons between materials which are produced in quite different ways. Where for example do you draw the boundaries for example with plant-based materials – do you include the use of water through irrigation and the energy used in planting and harvesting?

“The range of properties available from plant-based plastics isn’t as wide as those from the range of conventional plastics. However use is growing and I would say these materials are an essential part of the industry’s wide offering.”

As the date for the UK’s departure from the EU looms, Law said that the BPF “favoured to keep regulatory alignment with the other EU countries post-departure” and added that the Federation is urging the government to “shadow EU legislation post-Brexit”.

“We don’t want UK manufacturers to have to conform to more regulatory regimes than they need to, because it all adds to their costs and risks making them uncompetitive against overseas industries. We want a regulatory regime here which makes the UK attractive for new investment and encourages manufacturers with global options to actually stay here,” said Law.







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