Petition - The Great Big Green Week

Response from Hampshire County Council, November 2021

Thank you for your letter regarding plastics recycling in Hampshire. It has been encouraging to see the many Great Big Green Week activities that took place across the County, and we are pleased to see so many active groups making change in their communities.

We understand that many of Hampshire’s residents would like to see a wider range of items accepted through the kerbside recycling, particularly items such as plastic food containers and other packaging. Unfortunately, there are various reasons that make that unfeasible for the time being.

The two main factors in this are the current infrastructure at the Material Recovery Facilities and the lack of sustainable markets to which these materials can be sent for recycling.

Mixed recycling collected from Hampshire households is sorted at one of two Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs). These facilities sort items into different streams (e.g. paper, card, aluminium, steel, plastic bottles) via a mix of mechanical and manual sorting. The MRFs are able to sort plastic bottles from other materials via an “optical sort” whereby infra-red light is used to identify and separate two types of plastic bottle:

  • PET (indicated by a number 1 on the bottom of the bottle)
  • HDPE (indicated by a number 2 on the bottom of the bottle)

These two types make up around 97% of the plastic bottle stream, including milk, soft drink, cosmetic and cleaning product bottles, this currently captures around 60% of the available plastic bottles in Hampshire with the remainder being put in the residual waste bin, litter bins and even littered.

Other types of plastics, such as plastic food trays, are made up of a wider variety of polymers – e.g. PS, PP, PET, PVC, and LDPE. This range of polymers cannot currently be sorted at the MRFs without investing significantly in new equipment. It is equally important that environmentally and economically sustainable markets for recycling such plastic streams exist. Unfortunately, such market outlets are not widespread in the UK or abroad and Hampshire is keen to ensure that no material collected for recycling ends up being exported and not recycled as has been highlighted in media coverage. Refitting existing infrastructure in Hampshire to take mixed plastics at this time when recycling options are limited would not be value for money and we are therefore working on ways we can enable residents to recycle more.

Whilst we continue to monitor markets, we are seeking ways of increasing the range of items that we can accept for recycling and are working with our district partners and contractor to develop business cases for the necessary investment that would enable this in the future. In the meantime, Hampshire County Council considers that the most sustainable disposal option for mixed plastics (other than bottles) is to recover energy from them. Hampshire's three Energy Recovery Facilities transform unrecyclable waste into enough electricity to power over 50,000 homes every year and, as a result, Hampshire sends less than 6% of all household waste to landfill.

While other authorities may separately collect mixed plastics for processing, there is no guarantee they will be recycled or be processed in this country as this is entirely dependent on the availability of profitable and stable markets. Some districts in Hampshire previously trialled the use of bring banks for mixed plastics but in each case the banks had to be withdrawn because the banks became overwhelmed with material for which there were no viable markets.  As previously stated, exporting plastics abroad is not an action that Hampshire County Council wishes to pursue for obvious environmental and sustainability reasons. I hope you would be pleased to know that of the mixed plastic bottles collected for recycling in Hampshire for the 2019/20 period, 98.47% were recycled in the UK and the remaining 1.53% were recycled in the Netherlands.

This being said, the items accepted for recycling in Hampshire are likely to change in the future. We are closely monitoring the progress of the Government’s Environment Bill proposals which introduce several significant changes to the management of household waste nationally and will therefore influence Hampshire’s future strategy and decision making around waste management and recycling.

These include proposals for:

  • Consistency in kerbside collections with a wider range of materials accepted for recycling
  • Extended Producer Responsibility whereby packaging producers will have to cover the costs of disposal/recycling once residents throw away their products
  • A Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers
  • A Plastics Tax on certain packaging items.

It is expected that these measures will help improve Hampshire’s recycling rates by increasing the range of materials collected for recycling and giving residents more clarity over what can and cannot be recycled through better labelling and consistency.

Hampshire County Council supports these initiatives and is working hard to ensure we will be able to comply with the Government’s requirements, once they are finalised. For example, the Council has recently agreed to commission Veolia to prepare and submit a planning application to develop a new Materials Recovery Facility, allowing for a wider range of materials to be recycled in Hampshire, including items such as plastic pots, tubs and trays.

It is our hope that these requirements will provide the stimulus needed for greater recycling capability in the UK (particularly for plastic packaging) and a shift among manufacturers to use fewer polymers and make their packaging more readily recycled in the future. Investment will be required to deliver new sorting facilities to accept additional materials for recycling, but it is imperative that there is sufficient processing capacity in the UK to recycle this material once sorted and to avoid the carbon impacts of transporting materials around the world or the risk of materials ending up as waste in another country.

While recycling is clearly important, preventing waste in the first place has an even greater environmental benefit. The Council’s waste prevention and lifestyle initiative, Smart Living, has lots of ideas on their website on how Hampshire residents can reduce their waste at home:

You may also find the Hampshire Recycles page useful, as it provides further detail on what items can be recycled in Hampshire, as well as lots of useful information and resources for schools that some of your congregation may be interested in:

Thank you once again for getting in touch and for raising these concerns with me.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Rob Humby
Deputy Leader
Executive Lead Member for Economy, Transport and Environment