Briefing – Challenges in Recycling "Hard Plastics" in Edinburgh

Hard plastics are predominantly bulkier type items like storage boxes, kids toys, garden furniture, plant pots etc. Below is a briefing from the Council on the problems it faces recycling them.

Question (1) – Why has the Council stopped accepting “hard plastic” as a recycling stream?

Answer (1) – There are significant challenges with recycling hard plastics and the Council has been unable to find a reprocessing contractor willing to accept these materials. The hard plastic containers which had been located at Seafield and Bankhead Recycling Centres were removed over the course of December 2019 to January 2020. The hard-plastic container at Craigmillar Recycling Centre will be removed shortly. This issue is not unique to Edinburgh and other local authorities have made similar changes as a result of the difficulties in reprocessing hard plastics.

Question (2) – What implication does this have for plastic recycling for kerb side and communal bin collections?

Answer (2) – None. Whilst the council has in place various collection systems which directly collect materials for recycling or which otherwise divert materials, it is not always directly involved in selling to end use markets. Hard plastics are not collected as part of the kerbside or communal waste collection service. Until recently, hard plastics could only be recycled at the Household Waste Recycling Centres, where it would then go on to a reprocessor contractor who would clean and shred to sell as raw material. Hard plastics can still be put into general waste and will be converted into energy at our Millerhill Site.

Question (3) – What steps are being taken to increase the possibilities for plastic recycling for the Edinburgh public?

Answer (3) – Markets for plastics are ever changing. Council currently uses a contract which covers dry mixed materials and we encourage plastics recycling such as bottles or milk cartons. The Council will continue to monitor the demand for all plastics and will reintroduce containers in Household Waste Recycling Centres if there is demand for hard plastics and options for reprocessing become available. In addition:

  1. A Council officer will attend a meeting in February on an innovative scheme for recycling hard plastic materials, based in Perthshire. At present, there is no guarantee that this scheme will progress to market or that an outlet will be secured but progress will continue to be monitored;
  2. A procurement exercise is currently underway to secure a new supplier for dry mix recycling (i.e. plastics that are disposed of in green bins). The successful tenderer will be expected to maximise recycling all dry mixed recycling materials; and
  3. A campaign to improve the quality of the plastics which can be recycled (e.g. reducing the plastic materials which are deposited for recycling, but which are contaminated by food) is planned.

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