Circular Online editor, Darrel Moore, attended this year’s CIWM Resource Conference Cymru 2022 located at Glamorgan County Cricket Club in Cardiff. Here’s what he took away from the event.
Wales, as a country, is never out of the headlines for long when it comes to its ambition for the environment, sustainability, and the circular economy. And this is certainly true at the moment. I attended CIWM Resource Conference Cymru 2022 just days after covering the recent news that Wales was the only UK country whose recycling rate for households did not decrease during 2020.
As a result, Wildlife and Countryside Link warned that action on waste in England must be “ramped up” to match the “greater ambition in Wales” if the government wants to meet its next target of 65% recycling by 2035.
So, with this as the backdrop, I really wanted to listen to what was happening in Wales right now to get a sense of what this “greater ambition” is. Here’s what I took away…
1 – Flexible focus
When it comes to flexible (plastic) packaging, there’s no getting away from it; it represents nearly a quarter of all UK consumer plastic packaging on the market and only six per cent is recycled.
As part of one of the afternoon workshops to discuss the issues related to the collection and recycling of flexible packaging, we heard that urgent action was required to address the complex challenges around this waste stream.
It plays an important part in packaging for several reasons, including its unique ability to protect food from being wasted – which has a much greater carbon impact going forward, so a solution needs to be found.
Jane Skelton, Commercial Manager at OPRL, told delegates that what it comes down to is: “Everyone needs to do something.” From design to collection… right to the consumer.
That “something” is the thing up for debate. We heard how there’s a need to talk to designers about materials that cause complications at the post-consumer phase; there’s also more that can be done to phase out the material in products where it’s not needed, such as fruit and veg; and there’s a question about whether weight is the right metric for collection, given how light and voluminous it is. Would a carbon metric serve better?
Flexible packaging represents nearly a quarter of all UK consumer plastic packaging on the market and only six per cent is recycled.
This also raised questions around whether current sorting facilities are fit for purpose. Contamination was also highlighted as an issue, considering it’s often used for food products which costs more and takes more energy to clean.
It was agreed that investment is needed through extended producer responsibility (EPR) and that “solutions are there”. “We all need to do our bit,” said Jane.
UK Research and Innovation’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) Challenge recently announced £30 million in funding for 18 collaborative projects that support the achievement of the UK Plastics Pact.
The SSPP Challenge also announced a major collaboration and co-funding agreement with the Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging (CEFLEX) initiative, a collaboration of over 180 European companies, associations and organisations representing the entire value chain of flexible packaging.
CEFLEX aims to make all flexible packaging in Europe circular by 2025. £500,000 SSPP funding will seek to support a comprehensive testing programme for CEFLEX’s “Designing for a Circular Economy” guidelines.
2 – Digital deposit return scheme (DRS)
A digital deposit return scheme, or a “kerbside DRS”, is a DRS scheme that utilises QR codes and a well-established kerbside recycling collection as a way of collecting materials on which consumers have paid a deposit.
Traditional DRS are commonly based on a return-to-retailer model, with extensive use of reverse vending machines and separate DRS counting centres managing the flow of material from consumer to recycling plant.
Defra estimates a deployment cost of more than £6bn over 11 years and questions have been raised over their convenience for users and retailers.
Wales’ first digital kerbside DRS pilot resulted in 97% of registered households returning at least one bottle over four weeks.
In another of the afternoon workshops, delegates heard how the results from Wales’ first digital kerbside DRS pilot resulted in 97% of registered households returning at least one bottle over four weeks.
The Conwy pilot leveraged Wales-based start-up Polytag’s digital DRS “tag and trace” technology and we heard from Alice Rackley, CEO of Polytag, about the potential of this technology.
“Allowing householders the option to redeem and return in-scope DRS containers at the kerbside could place the UK at the forefront of digitalisation and innovation,” said Resource Futures Senior Consultant, Carla Worth, during the session.
3 – Collaboration is the future
One of the recurring themes of the day was “collaboration” and this was evident from the outset.
In the first session, which looked at how well-placed Wales is to meet the challenge of achieving net zero and contributing to a green recovery, we heard from the Welsh Government Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, who updated delegates on the government’s range of recent policy measures. She said the resource sector was “crucial” in moving Wales towards a circular economy.
When asked by an audience member what the next “impossible target” for Wales was – following the country’s 70% recycling target – she said, “zero waste”.
Julie discussed the issue of how to measure progress when it comes to the circular economy, as well as exploring alternative economic models that include things such as repair and reuse.
“We have an economic model that’s broken,” she said, referring to built-in obsolescence in items such as smartphones.
4 – Education is key
CIWM President, Dr Adam Read, discussed the importance of skills, saying we’re a sector that needs to transition because we’re not aligned to the needs of tomorrow. He said current policy reforms are changing the game but what about changing the way we behave?
He avoided the term “green” skills because he says the skills of tomorrow will all be green.
Adam’s CIWM Presidential Report, Skills for the Future, states that over the next decade, the resource and waste sector will have an increasingly important role to play as the UK seeks to improve resource availability and security and the need to supply quality secondary raw materials and feedstocks from a wide range of different waste streams increases.
The future is going to be repair and reuse
The morning also saw Ella Kenny, Member Swansea East, Welsh Youth Parliament, provide an impassioned speech to delegates, offering us “a young perspective” on environmental issues.
“Without new policies, the UK government will miss climate targets,” she said. “Wales can help hold the UK government to account.”
Unfortunately, she said a lot of young people have an “apathy” toward their future prospects and she was clear in her opinion that a way to overcome this is through education and, specifically, by making it easier for young people to access higher education.
“The future is going to be repair and reuse,” Adam said during his presentation. He said in the next five years, the skill set of 50 per cent of the population won’t be relevant.
“What is a circular economy job?” he asked.
The answer: all jobs because we’re all going to be circular, he said.