A pioneering new recycling facility is now open in Fife which will reprocess ‘hard-to-recycle’ soft plastics. It aims to develop a greater plastics recycling infrastructure here in the UK, to keep the material in a ‘closed loop’ and save it from being exported overseas.
The site is co-owned by Morrisons and was constructed and will be operated by recycling plant specialists Yes Recycling. A number of other organisations including Nestlé UK & Ireland and Zero Waste Scotland, have also been involved in the development of this ground-breaking recycling plant.
The new recycling plant uses patented technology, developed over the last seven years. It will turn hard-to-recycle flexible food packaging into plastic flakes, pellets and new Ecosheet* which can be used widely, for example in the construction industry and in the agriculture industry. At full capacity, the site will recycle 15,000 tonnes of post-consumer plastic packaging a year.
The hard-to-recycle soft plastic – including chocolate wrappers, crisp packets and food film – will be sent to the site from Morrisons distribution sites and stores**, and by Cireco Scotland who operate Fife Council’s household kerbside collection service and who also separate out the plastics ready for recycling. Fife is currently one of a limited number of local councils who collect and segregate hard-to-recycle plastic from its customer collections and send it to a recycling facility.
Unlike ‘high grade’ plastics – which are more valuable and which have been harvested for many years – this ‘low grade’ soft plastic has not been recycled widely due to limitations of technology to recycle this material into commercially viable products. So it has typically been incinerated, ended up in landfill, or has even been exported overseas – often to countries whose infrastructure cannot accommodate it.
The new site is a major step forward for the British recycling industry – as governments around the world push for a ‘green industrial revolution’. The facility will create around 60 new jobs. The Government has mandated that by 2027, soft plastic film and flexibles need to be collected from all households through kerbside recycling collections, by all councils in the UK. On current projections the UK would need one million tonnes of plastic packaging recycling capacity*** by then to hit these government targets.
Omer Kutluoglu, Co-owner of Yes Recycling, said: “The UK is in desperate need of more plastic recycling capacity and, in particular, for the so-called ‘hard-to-recycle’ plastic waste such as flexible food packaging. Our new ‘next-generation’ recycling plant, which we’ve developed over the last seven years, is designed to tackle exactly these materials. It is a blueprint for the future and will help to kick-start the UK’s plastics recycling industry. It will mean we can keep plastic in our own country’s ‘circular economy’ and out of our seas and oceans.”
Jamie Winter, Procurement Director at Morrisons, said: “We’ve done a significant amount of work to reduce our plastic use and now we want to help build a UK infrastructure to recycle the plastic that we may still need to use. By recycling these problematic plastics here in the UK we can give them a new life.”
David Gunn, Zero Waste Scotland’s Recycling Improvement Fund Manager, said: “Zero Waste Scotland has been supporting local authorities through the Recycling Improvement Fund, which helps councils to enhance and invest in their recycling and reuse services.
“It’s great to see Fife Council using this support to enable householders to recycle soft plastic by upgrading CIRECO’s material recycling facility. This will significantly enhance the local authority’s ability to deal with ‘hard-to-recycle’ plastics that would otherwise be exported overseas.
“Instead, the separated soft plastics are now supplied to Yes Recycling for processing into Ecosheet, transforming what would have been waste into a highly useful and sustainable product – a fantastic example of a circular economy at work.”
Sokhna Gueye, Head of Packaging at Nestlé UK & Ireland, said: “It is really exciting to see Yes Recycling open its doors in Fife. We made a pre-investment of £1.65million into the facility as at Nestlé we are working hard towards our vision that none of our packaging, including plastics, ends up in landfill or as litter. So, it is fantastic to see our packaging such as KitKat wrappers or Purina pouches given a second life, thus contributing to building a circular economy for plastics.”
The new recycling plant takes low grade plastics including sweet wrappers, crisp packets, salad bags, and non PET food film. When these materials enter the site, all of the plastic material is washed and sorted. It is then broken down and turned into flakes and pellets which can be used to make new plastic products in a ‘closed loop’. Other pellets are compressed into Ecosheets which can be recycled again at the end of their life.
* Ecosheet is an environmentally friendly alternative to plywood. It can be used in the agriculture industry to build animal barns and stables. It requires no deforestation and little energy to make, lasts 10 times longer than plywood, and is fully recyclable at end-of-life. The UK imports approximately 35 million sheets of plywood every year.
** Morrisons is collecting soft plastic at all of its supermarkets throughout the UK – to create the first supermarket plastic ‘closed recycling loop’. Customers can rinse their soft plastics, put them into a bag, bring them into its stores, and put them into collection bins in its foyers.