Waste management company Biffa has received planning approval from Durham County Council to build a new £15-million plastic recycling facility near the town of Seaham.
Biffa will be making use of a 130,000 square foot vacant warehouse at Foxcover Distribution Park, where the company intends to install a polymer processing plant capable of recycling more than one billion plastic bottles every year.
The proposed facility will be in operation 24/7 and will process three million bottles a day into new food and drink packaging, bringing around 70 new full-time jobs to the area. Construction is expected to commence in summer 2019, with the first commissioning trials scheduled for December.
Biffa’s new site represents its latest investment in UK-based recycling infrastructure and will double the company’s plastic bottle recycling capacity. Currently, its flagship Redcar plant processes around 18,000 tonnes of recycled high density polyethylene (rHDPE) every year, turning it into milk bottles and food trays.
Mick Davis, managing director of resource, recovery and treatment at Biffa, said: “The UK currently uses around 13.5 billion plastic bottles a year but can only process half of this, with the rest diverted to landfill or overseas. This new site represents an exciting opportunity to boost our recycling capacity here at home and supports the country’s long-term plan to find new ways to reuse plastics, as detailed in Defra’s recent Resources and Waste Strategy.
“Our proposals for the Seaham plant were the result of months of careful consideration and we are keen to build on our already excellent reputation for recycling in the north east. We are delighted Durham County Council recognised the importance of this site to the region, as well as the wider waste industry, and we now look forward to seeing these plans come to life.”
Biffa’s investment comes at a time of increasing recognition that the UK’s domestic recycling infrastructure must be improved. Since the introduction of China’s ban on the import of 24 grades of solid waste at the start of 2018, including post consumer plastics and unsorted mixed papers, the UK’s ability to process its own waste has come into sharper focus.
The UK previously sent 494,000 tonnes of plastics and 1.4 million tonnes of recovered paper to China every year. That avenue is now closed, and alternative markets in Southeast Asia have followed suit, drastically reducing the availability of export options for plastics waste.
As such, efforts have been made to encourage investment in domestic recycling facilities and increase the uptake of recycled materials in manufacturing. At the end of 2017, the government’s Industrial Strategy called for the UK to position itself as a world leader in resource efficiency and to strengthen its market for secondary materials; the need to develop domestic infrastructure was reiterated in the recent Resources and Waste Strategy, published just before Christmas.
The opportunities offered by recycled materials in the UK are significant, with a report from think tank Green Alliance in June 2018 stating that 71 per cent of the raw material needed by UK manufacturers of plastic packaging and products could be provided by recycled plastics. Discussion continues around how demand should be stimulated; Eunomia Research and Consulting has called for a system of levies and rebates to incentivise producers to use more recycled materials, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the Treasury’s Autumn Statement that from 2022, a tax will be placed on the manufacture and import of plastic packaging containing less than 30 per cent recycled plastic.