Since December 2017, when the BBC broadcast its “Blue Planet II” series featuring an episode on the damage plastics are causing to marine wildlife, responsible plastic use has become a priority issue for the public, retailers, and the British government.
“This media attention has changed attitudes to plastics,” states Richard Kirkman, Chief Technology & Innovation Officer for Veolia UK & Ireland. “Veolia was already ahead of the curve in terms of plastic solutions. For instance, we’ve been working with the dairy industry to find ways to turn used milk bottles back into new ones.”
In April 2018, the UK Plastics Pact (UKPP, see infographic) was formed to tackle the scourge of plastic pollution. This collaborative initiative is laying the foundations for a circular economy for plastics. The UKPP brings together 40 major brands across the entire plastics value chain, along with UK government institutions and NGOs. Veolia is also a member and sits on the advisory committee.
“The UK Plastics Pact is very important in encouraging plastic packaging manufacturers to use more recycled content, but also ensuring they design their plastic products to be recyclable,” explains Richard Kirkman.
In 2017, Veolia took over an unused plastic bottle recycling plant in Dagenham in East London. After some initial investment to get the facility up and running again with the addition of improved technology, it is now accepting 300 million milk bottles annually from across the UK, equivalent to all the milk consumed in London each year. The bottles are turned into a food-grade recycled HDPE product that is used to make new milk bottles and yoghurt pots.
“We have 14 material recycling facilities in the UK that separate plastics from other collected materials such as paper and cans,” explains Richard Kirkman. “Our facility in Dagenham perfectly demonstrates Veolia’s ability to produce circular plastic recycling solutions.”
Ambitious commitments have already been made by industry leaders to move toward products containing recycled plastic. If more companies follow in the future, then a real momentum can be achieved!
300 million milk bottles arrive at the Dagenham facility each year.
10,000 metric tons of HDPE pellets are produced there to be made into new milk bottles.
3 vacuum extrusion lines are dedicated to HDPE production. 2 other lines will be used for PET production.
Approximately 25% of the plastics collected by Veolia from households are HDPE bottles.
The UK Plastics Pact aims to achieve three main objectives by 2025:
- 100% of plastic packaging shall be reusable, recyclable or compostable (eco-design);
- 70% of plastic packaging shall be effectively recycled or composted (repurposing);
- in the future, all plastic packaging produced shall contain 30% recycled content.
* HDPE: High-density polyethylene