We've launched a study into collecting low grade plastics

Councillors have agreed to investigate the possibility of our recycling team collecting low-grade plastics like food pots, tubs and trays.

At present, Cityclean collects every type of plastic bottle including drinks containers, kitchen and bathroom products and milk bottles, which are all made of high grade and valuable plastic.

Responding to residents

However, as many residents feel we should collect pots, tubs and trays (PTTs) – the vast majority of which cannot be recycled - we will now carry out an in-depth feasibility study on:

  • The cost of converting the Hollingdean recycling depot to take PTTs (estimated to cost £750,000 plus another £80,000 per year)
  • The carbon impact of the construction works
  • Sorting the material at the Hollingdean Materials Recovery Facility rather than sending it to the Newhaven-based Energy Recovery Facility
  • The environmental impact and cost of transporting the materials.

Why we don’t collect PTTs

Currently, we don’t collect PTT-type plastic for a number of reasons including:

  • The low quality of the materials makes it very difficult to recycle
  • The added cost to the taxpayer of collecting low grade plastics
  • Up to 70 per cent of PTTs we would collect cannot be recycled
  • Of PTTs we could recycle, our recycling rate would only increase by 0.5 per cent.
  • Accepting PTTs could contaminate the other clean, high-quality material we collect.

No plastics go to poorer countries

Although at present, our recycling rate is almost 30 per cent, we know that virtually all the plastics we collect stay within the UK, with nothing being shipped abroad to poorer countries.

If we start to collect PTTs, once we sold the materials on, we wouldn’t know where they end up as there is no market for them in the UK.

A National Audit Office report, published in 2018, stated there is a significant risk that PTT is exported from the UK for recycling and ending up in landfill in the importing countries, rather than being recycled.

Another report, entitled ‘Everyday Plastic’ by Webb and Schneider, states that an estimated 63 per cent of plastics collected for recycling in the UK, are exported.

While the reports are a couple of years old, there is little evidence this has changed.

Reasons for collecting PTTs

Despite all this, there are grounds for collecting PTTs, including:

  • It’s estimated that around 550 tonnes of PTT would be recycled annually, increasing our recycling rate by 0.5 per cent. Currently a total of 16,600 tonnes of recycling is handled by the Hollingdean recycling depot
  • Many residents would like these types of plastics to be collected
  • Despite the council continually communicating that we don’t collect PTTs, residents still put them in their recycling
  • Recycling PTTs will reduce the contamination level within wheelie bins and communal bins
  • When recycling is contaminated, the contents of the whole bin and – in many cases – lorry loads must be treated as waste and not recycled.

Our current waste and recycling processes are:

  • All recycling - varies but is around 30 per cent. Mostly all processed within the UK. This equates to almost 30,000 tonnes a year
  • Ordinary waste (that is not at present recycled, including PTTs) amounts to around 68 per cent. (550kg per year per household, 72,000 tonnes in total). These items are taken to the Energy Recovery Facility in Newhaven to create energy which powers 25,000 Sussex homes.
  • Landfill – (strictly only things that cannot be recycled or turned into energy) around two per cent, which is one of the lowest in the UK.

We want to gather all the information

Councillor Any Heley, chair of the council’s environment, transport and sustainability committee, said: “We know that many residents have raised that they want to be able to recycle more types of plastics.

“Through this feasibility study we will ensure we have all the information we need to explore how this might work and the impact it will have.”

Councillor Gary Wilkinson, opposition lead spokesperson for environment, transport and sustainability, said: “It is only right that we listen to our residents on this. Over half of all plastic collected in the UK ends up being disposed of rather than recycled.

“Through looking to increase the range of plastics that we can collect for recycling we will increase our recycling rate and cut the contamination of other recycling.”