AUGUST 2008

Scotland explores recycling plastics

New research from Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has found that recycling not just plastic bottles but other plastic packaging as well can be cost-effective and environmentally friendly. WRAP has launched its first business plan for Scotland and proposes to review the outcomes of its mixed plastics research against Scotland’s circumstances.

Scotland produces around 250,000 tons of mixed plastic packaging waste every year.

WRAP did the research to see if it made financial sense to recycle this waste and if recycling it would be better for the environment than other options – such as burning it or sending it to landfill. In particular, WRAP wanted to see if these ordinary household items could be recycled to make new ones, rather than having to use virgin plastics every time.

WRAP’s research included trials of sorting different types of plastics, an analysis of the type of technology needed, estimated costs and modeling of the financial rate of return. It also compared the environmental impacts of various methods, including burning or sending it to landfills. Research showed that recycling can be cheaper than both these options.

Overall, landfill is the least favorable option for disposing of plastics waste. However, in terms of global warming potential, the research found that incineration of plastic packaging was the worst option. This is because more CO2 is emitted by burning plastics than by burning gas or coal to generate the same amount of electricity.

The research showed that, on balance, the best environmental option is to invest in technology to produce high quality recycled plastics, but there will still be a need for solid recovered fuel (SRF) in some cases. Consequently, it makes sense to build integrated plants capable of both options, as this improves the economic benefit and maximizes the environmental impact.