Why can't I recycle plastic pots, tubs or trays?
Mixed recycling collected in Hampshire is sorted at one of two Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs). These facilities sort items into different streams (e.g. aluminium, steel, plastic bottles) via a mix of mechanical and manual sorting. Our 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. They are:
- PET (often indicated by a number 1 on the bottom of the bottle)
- HDPE (often 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.
Plastic pots, tubs and trays (PTT) are made up of a wider variety of polymers – e.g. PS, PP, PET, PVC, and LDPE. This range of polymers cannot be successfully sorted in our MRFs without investing significantly in new equipment, which at this stage would be prohibitively expensive. Even if the required equipment were to be installed, it is likely that there would also be the following issues:
- Any recyclable material needs a viable and sustainable end market – i.e. a reprocessor who will physically recycle the material in a cost effective manner. Currently there is no viable market for over half of the PTT that we could collect. This is an issue facing all local councils - the destination for the material with no market would be landfill or incineration.
- Sorting would not be 100% accurate, and it is likely the other material streams e.g. paper could be contaminated with plastic if PTT were added. This is because of the difficulty of trying to sort so many types of plastic. This would in turn reduce the monetary value of other materials.
- PTT may be contaminated with food, which again could reduce the quality of other materials.
- Trays made from PET are not of the same quality as bottles made from PET, and are not as desirable from a plastic reprocessor's perspective.
- Some pots (e.g. yogurt pots) contain more than 1 type of plastic – i.e. the rigid top and softer body – which cannot be separated.
- Many plastic trays are black. When these are on black conveyor belts in the MRF they cannot be "seen" by the optical sorting technology and will therefore end up being disposed of.
- It is estimated that recycling rates would increase by less than 1% if PTT were to be accepted.
Project Integra has recently carried out a review into alternative materials we could add into our kerbside recycling, but for the reasons described, widening the range of plastics accepted is not viable in the short term.
Further information on plastic recycling