New recycling plant to create a virtuous circle for plastic

A small corner of east London is set to help tackle the UK's waste mountain by turning used drinks bottles into safe, reusable food packaging

A A A

As a new survey reveals that packaging waste is now the biggest environmental concern in the UK, Britain is poised to make a dramatic leap forward in its recycling efforts with the opening of the nation's first "closed loop" recycling plant.

The £13m facility in Dagenham, east London, will turn millions of used drinks bottles and sandwich wrappers made out of PET (polyethylene teraphthalate) back into "clean" wrapping.

According to the survey, by the communications company WPP, a quarter of UK adults now believe that the huge amounts of waste packaging that we are producing and failing to recycle is extremely worrying, compared with just 15 per cent who are worried to the same degree about the impact of greenhouse gases. This shift in public opinion has increased pressure on big companies and the Government to reduce the tons of waste consigned to landfill or exported for recycling every year.

Joan Ruddock, the environment minister, moved to address growing concern yesterday when she said: "My priority now is both to reduce excessive packaging and increase the recyclable content of essential packaging. The new plant will help accelerate progress and I'm confident more facilities will follow."

Supermarkets have also responded to growing public concern on the matter, with Tesco, M&S and Sainsbury's trying to reduce the amount of packaging they use. Asda, meanwhile, has launched a campaign for better recycling collections.

Some 1.2 million tonnes of mixed plastics from the UK – everything from salad bags to yoghurt pots and drinks bottles – end up as landfill every year.

The processes used in the new plant have been employed in Switzerland and Germany for over a decade. The plant can also process HDPE (high-density polyethylene), the super-tough plastic that milk bottles are made out of, producing pellets that can be turned back into fresh milk cartons.

"This is a massive step forward – the UK is really leading the way here" said Liz Goodwin of Wrap, an organisation which helps individuals, businesses and local authorities to reduce waste and recycle more.

Currently much of the UK's waste PET is shipped to plants in the Far East and China, before the recycled material is shipped back – pumping out tons of carbon along the way. It is estimated that food packaging currently accounts for between 5 and 10 per cent of each person's carbon footprint.

"Companies can't just steam along contrary to public opinion, and people want to know what it happening to our resources" said Chris Dow, an Australian environmentalist responsible for setting up the plant. According to Mr Dow, who made the Sydney 2000 Olympics "carbon neutral", the new system has obvious environmental benefits. "The idea behind closed loop is simple: we collect discarded packaging from waste management companies, offices, retailers, and turn them back into plastic suitable for food packaging," he said.

"There isn't the national infrastructure here that there is abroad. When you try and make improvements to the systems, people just say 'you can't recycle that!' and until now that has been true" Mr Dow said. "Commercially it makes sense. Companies used to make recycled products cheaper than their virgin equivalent, which sent the industry downwards, and devalued recycled products. I've no doubt closed loop will make money."

With the UK's recycling industry now worth £1.4m a year, and each ton of recycled PET worth £800, he might be right.

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administrator - London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administra...

Recruitment Genius: .NET Web Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity for a t...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£14616 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading specialist in Electronic Ci...

Recruitment Genius: Pre-Press / Mac Operator / Artworker - Digital & Litho Print

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: With year on year growth and a reputation for ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003