News Archives - WoldPac
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Posted by: In: News 01 Jul 2019 0 comments

Does this government care at all about Climate Change?

This was the first thought that I had when I was told that the latest price for a plastic PRN is now £450 per tonne.

For those uninitiated in the jargon, a plastic PRN is a Packaging Recovery Note which, 12 months ago, would have cost £62 per tonne and which would right now cost £450 per tonne.

This is a legal obligation and the tonnage charged depends on a calculation devised by the Environmental Agency. A plastic PRN is now more than double the cost of most virgin material and has reached a level which will see many companies in the plastic packaging industry losing money, others make closures, and some suffer bankruptcy!  Consider this, in 2018 a total of 932,670 PRN’s were issued for plastics, each of those are now £388 more expensive than Q1 2018. That is a tax increase over the next 12 months of at least £361,875,960.

Compare this £450 per tonne with the cost of PRN’s for alternative packaging and materials;

  • PRN’s for Paper are at £16.50 per tonne
  • PRN’s for Glass are at £22.00 per tonne
  • PRN’s for Aluminium are at £145 per tonne

All of these materials generate more CO2 emissions in their sourcing, manufacture, distribution, etc, than plastic. For example, according to the Northern Island Assembly, it takes four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag compared to a plastic bag and creates 70% more polluted air. Whilst, the mining, crushing and smelting of aluminium is one of the most energy intensive and most polluting manufacturing processes on Earth.

It is difficult to think of any other product in the UK other than plastic which could be subjected to a 600% tax price increase without a public outcry for Government intervention to control the escalation in cost. However, such is the public’s current perception of plastic, particularly plastic packaging, the media will probably applaud this increase as an encouragement to the retailers and food manufacturers to change their packaging to alternative materials.

Whilst the environment agency is allegedly increasing its enforcement of Reprocessing accreditations for plastic, at £450 per tonne the generation of fraudulent plastic PRN’s is an invitation to criminals to join the recycling business.

It should be noted that the agency invariably does not prosecute those not complying with the scheme but usually just suspends their accreditation until the correct paperwork is available.

These PRN’s are designed as a tax on material manufacturers and distributors to ensure the UK meets its Recycling targets. In the case of Plastic, the current extortionate price simply reflects the UK Local Authorities long term lack of investment in plastic recycling and their willingness to simply export the problem to the third world. The decision by China to cease imports of waste plastic has shown how misguided this policy was.

We now have a situation where the escalating cost of supplying plastic packaging will force companies to consider the use of alternative materials which will undoubtably increase Climate Change.

All plastic packaging is capable of being recycled. The food manufactures and the food retailers all know this. They also understand that recycling plastic is the most environmentally beneficial and the most cost effective solution to its end of life treatment.  Unfortunately, none of them at the moment are prepared to make the case for using plastic packaging. Instead, they are appeasing the public by adopting environmentally inferior materials which are more expensive for plastic replacement. At some point this policy will have to be reversed as they know it creates more food waste. Meanwhile, those companies that supply plastic packaging in all its forms are being punished financially and vilified by the media.

As ever your views on any of the items included in these notes would be welcomed.

Posted by: In: News 07 Jun 2019 0 comments

100% Recyclable Plastic

In theory the collection and sorting of the majority of plastic packaging waste is not technically difficult, it is a mechanical process which, if helped by some initial sorting by the customer, simply involves the separation of the waste by floatation or infrared spotting. This is followed by shredding and washing ready for re-use. (It would of course be made easier by providing the consumer with a ‘traffic light’ colour code on the packs to identify the different films).

So, what are the problems?

  • The resultant recyclate is often lower quality than virgin material, this has limited reuse.
  • The costs incurred in the process result in limited financial benefit when compared with virgin material.
  • Around 20% of plastic waste can not be recycled mechanically as it consists of lamination of different plastics such as PE, PET, PP and ALU, all are used in various combinations to increase food ‘shelf life’.

It is this third factor which is the most difficult to overcome but, after several years in development, the solution to recycling mixed plastics is now available, simply convert these waste plastics back into virgin quality feedstock!

You may have read elsewhere of this proposal, but we were recently visited by Adrian Howarth, marketing director of Swindon based Recycling Technologies, who didn’t take long to convince us that theirs is a totally practical solution to the problem of recycling mixed plastics and that the pilot plant can be economically upscaled to handle much higher volumes of mixed plastic waste. 

The major reasons this is possible are; 

a) The conversion technology utilizes pyrolysis. This is a long-established method used for producing charcoal or tar. 
b) The proposed recycling plants are not large multi-million-pound capital intensive installations but are built in ‘kit form’ off site then reassembled at the bulk recycling depot. 
c) As a consequence, no extra transport or waste separation is needed, plastic waste that can’t be recycled mechanically is recycled by pyrolysis back into virgin quality feedstock. 
d) Most importantly, the resultant recyclate which the company have called ‘Plaxx’ is a high value material which can be used to make wax, high-quality engine fuel for shipping, or quality feedstock for processing into plastic.

After many years of development on the Swindon site, the first large scale production facility is currently being assembled in Perth, Scotland, with a capacity of 7,000 tonnes per year. Whilst this may not appear to be a high volume at circa £3million per installation, they suggest 2 plants could accommodate mixed plastic waste from a population of approximately 300,000 people. 

In effect, this technology is ‘The Holy Grail’ as this will mean 100% of all plastic packaging will be recyclable and unlike the bulk recycled material ‘Plaxx’ will be a high value product.

Most of the major food retailers are interested in pursuing this solution to the problem of mixed plastic waste along with some of the large petro chemical polymer producers; 
The major reasons being is that anyone who takes the time and trouble to consider the reasons why we use plastic for food packaging realises that this is the perfect material for food preservation, transporting and presentation.

Plastic food packaging is light weight, low cost, inert and infinitely variable. Its detractors who promote plastic replacement with paper, board, glass or (heaven forbid) aluminium simply fail to recognise the negative environmental impact these materials have on the use of the Earth’s resources and the additional contribution their manufacture and transport make to global warming when compared to plastics.

Posted by: In: News 05 Jun 2019 0 comments

‘It requires the whole supply chain to work together and focus on delivering solutions for the right reasons’

Plastic pollution has been in the spotlight since Sir David Attenborough’s shocking revelations in the final episode of his Blue Planet II series, aired in December 2017. It was impossible not to be moved by the images showing the damage plastic is doing to nature. Around the same time China, where the UK sent an estimated 55 per cent of paper and more than 25 per cent of plastic waste, banned the import of “foreign garbage”.

Humans produced an estimated 320 million tonnes of plastic in 2016, according to Surfers Against Sewage, and WWF says eight million tonnes of it is dumped into the oceans each year. With the prospect of mountains of plastic gathering in the UK and the emotive evidence of the terrible impact on the natural world that plastic has been having, it was unsurprising a strong movement to drive down the use of plastics developed. This prompted prime minister Theresa May to announce a “war on plastic” in her 25-year environmental plan, pledging to abolish waste such as carrier bags, food packaging and disposable plastic straws.

Are there unforeseen consequences to demonising plastic?

Eighteen months on from the Blue Planet effect and we are in the middle of government consultations on four key areas: extended producer responsibility, essentially focused on passing the cost of waste management of packaging to the producers of it; deposit return schemes for drinks containers; improving the consistency of recycling for households and businesses; and a plastic packaging tax. Change is afoot.

But policymaking does not always follow logic and its tendency towards fashionable issues, headlines and seemingly swift, decisive action has been known to result in unintentionally negative consequences. Think back to the government’s incentives to move towards diesel as a way to reduce CO2emissions, inadvertently resulting in an increase in nitrogen oxide emissions.

So, is change happening for the right reasons? Not according to some. Plastic, it turns out, is not evil. In fact, it has many positive social and environmental impacts on our lives. It extends the shelf life of food. It keeps transport costs down. David Bucknall, head of materials chemistry at Heriot-Watt University, warns that banning plastic would lead to much higher carbon emissions, the driver of climate change. And if there’s one issue that is hotter and more contentious than plastic, it’s climate change.

Authorities must have a holistic view of sustainability

Take the humble plastic shopping bag. The UK has reportedly seen an 80 per cent reduction in single-use carrier bags since the introduction of the 5p charge. It’s a great figure. But an environmental impact study by the Environment Agency, published in 2015, concluded that a cotton shopping bag would have to be used 173 times before its carbon emissions were lower than using new shopping bags. That level of reuse was described as ambitious by the report. And it highlights just one example where less plastic could mean higher carbon emissions.

So this is not a simple problem with a simple solution. Deciding which sustainability measure to use in policymaking is extremely difficult. Plastic use is top of the agenda at the moment and is currently a bigger consideration than carbon footprint. But there are other measures and, if we only consider food products, we could just as easily focus on food waste, food miles and water usage, to name just three. Focus too much on cutting any one of these measures and the others could shoot up.

It’s complicated. It’s challenging. It requires the whole supply chain, both for packaging and the product inside, to work together and focus on delivering solutions for the right reasons. Here’s hoping the current consultations will do just that.

Thanks to Raconteur:

Posted by: In: News 29 May 2019 0 comments

A ban on plastics may seem a step towards a cleaner, greener future but a group of academics from Heriot-Watt University say it could result in much greater environmental damage.

Some 40 academics covering multiple disciplines across the university including engineering, sciences, economics and social sciences, have formed a new network to take an impartial, expert look at the growing issues around plastic.

The debate has gained fresh impetus since the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 series, which thrust the issue back into the public conscience and led to many calls for an absolute ban.

In many cases there is no credible alternative to using a plastic, so we need to move towards a ‘circular economy’ for plastics, rather than the largely ‘make-use-dispose’ model we currently adopt.

Professor David Bucknall

The academics want to capitalise on this momentum by contributing positively to these on-going discussions to help create a more sustainable model for plastic manufacturing and usage.  

Although the academics are in support of the urgent need to prevent potentially harmful environmental effects of plastics, they say many of the current arguments surrounding a reduction or ban are often shortsighted and not based on facts.


Professor David Bucknall, Chair in Materials Chemistry from the University’s Institute of Chemical Sciences, is concerned about pressure from various quarters calling for outright ban as there are no clear alternatives. Estimates show that replacement of plastics with currently available materials would lead to a doubling of global energy consumption and a tripling of greenhouse gas emissions (1). Separate analysis found the environmental cost of replacing plastic would be nearly four times greater.

Professor Bucknall explains: “Almost everything we touch or interact with on a daily basis is made of or contains a plastic of some description. Banning or reducing their use would have a massive impact on the way we live. For instance, replacing plastics with alternative materials such as glass and metals would cost more to manufacture due to the energy consumed and resources – including water – required to process them.

“Furthermore, because plastics are lightweight, transportation of consumer goods in plastic packaging means fewer vehicles are required for transportation of those goods, therefore burning less fuel and greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“So whilst some people may wish for plastics to be reduced or banned altogether, we need to ensure we are replacing them with materials that are better for the planet. In many cases there is no credible alternative to using a plastic, so we need to move towards a ‘circular economy’ for plastics, rather than the largely ‘make-use-dispose’ model we currently adopt. This will require changes and improvements in not only the plastics we are making, but getting better at reusing and recycling them”

Read the full report at the University of Heriot Watt website. See News Page.

Posted by: In: News 15 May 2019 0 comments Tags:

The pace of change in the food packaging industry is truly remarkable. Whilst we may have our own views on the content of Blue Planet II and its tenuous relevance to the UK it has undoubted driven a change in thinking on a truly awesome scale.

This change was particularly evident at the recent Packaging Innovations exhibition at the NEC. The scale and versatility of our industry was there for all to see. However, a myriad of exhibitors promoted their products on environmental criteria. Buzz words were ecological, sustainable, recyclable, biodegradable, compostable, life cycle assessments, CO emissions, Circular Economy, whilst Closed Loop, recycling and carbon footprints were freely discussed with virtually everyone wanting to make their contribution to ‘saving the environment’!

This made me wonder, what has happened to our sense of perspective? In the past we have considered the prime requirement of food packaging was to protect the pack contents to ensure they were preserved and presented in pristine conditions and we chose the best and most economical materials to ensure that happened. Now we have examples of Asda using glass for bottles, Morrisons bringing back paper bags, Waitrose using compostables for bananas and the Co-op using similar materials to replace plastic bags.

These are all highly reputable companies responding to the current public preoccupation with the current anti plastic paranoia. However, anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the adverse effect of the environment, should these alternative materials be widely adopted, must conclude this is simply the wrong way to go. In effect, we are moving back to heavyweight materials for packaging which drain the environment of precious natural resources and add to Global Warming.

For example universal adoption of these alternative materials would mean that we would need tens of thousands of acres to grow the base materials for compostable and biodegradable films. In addition we would use millions of gallons of extra water to facilitate their growth and the additional CO emissions generated in their manufacture, transport and disposal would simply add to global warming.

The Institute of Chemical Sciences has recently produced a paper which concluded that replacing current plastic packaging applications with the current alternative materials available would result in a doubling of energy consumption allied to a tripling of greenhouse has emissions.

It is for these reasons the National Flexible stand at the NEC focused solely on ‘the Future of Flexible Packaging’ courtesy of the ‘Academy’. This is a 2-2½ hour presentation of the facts regarding plastic packaging and how best to respond to the current demand for change.

It includes details of how we can, with judicious use of new film technology, reduce our use of plastic packaging without resorting to packaging which is environmentally inferior to plastic.

Crucially the Academy presentation also highlights the latest developments in plastic recycling particularly converting waste mixed plastics back into oil for reuse, a 100% application of the Circular Economy. All we need now is local authorities to collect the waste plastic.



Published by Barry Twigg at National Flexible