LIVE UPDATE: Resourcing the Future 2023

Packaging recycling

This year’s Resourcing the Future (RTF) conference will focus on the Collection and Packaging Reforms (CPR) due to be rolled out during the next few years.

RTF will discuss its evolution and delve into the detail of what it means for all those involved in the materials chain. It will explore the practicalities of implementation, such as changes to services, infrastructure, and markets, and what this means for you, your role, and your organisation.

It will also uncover how CPR will interact with other major policies, including the Deposit Return Scheme and Plastic Packaging Tax in a day full of informative speakers, interactive breakout sessions and networking opportunities. 

Check back here for live updates straight from the conference. 

09:35 – 09:55 – A History of Collection & Packaging Reforms (CPR)

Resourcing the Future

Opening 2023’s Resourcing the Future conference was CIWM’s president Anna Willetts – who in six days will become immediate past president when Dan Cook begins his term.

She introduced John Redmayne, Managing Director at European Recycling Platform, who chaired an insightful morning of discussions which began with a Fireside Chat between SUEZ’s Dr Adam Read and WRAP’s Director of Insights & Innovation Claire Shrewsbury.

Delegates were taken through the journey from the conception of collection and packaging reforms (CPR), through the consultation phases, the government’s responses and finally their implementation.

Shrewsbury began the discussion in 1995 which is when she remembered the start of improvements in recycling and targets, including how the landfill tax incentivised diverting waste from landfill. However, she recalled that around 2010, progress stagnated.

“People are still clambering for consistency,” Read said. He also asked where the transparency was and said that industry can’t see the system moving as we’re missing data.

He continued that change costs time and effort, not only money, and bemoaned forgotten opportunities that were missed. Read went on to speak about his time at SUEZ. From the beginning, he was tasked with “being nice to the UK government”, to take them on a journey and show them what the future should look like.

People are still clambering for consistency.

To do this, SUEZ held many stakeholder insight sessions and over time, Read says, Defra started asking to have a seat at the table during these discussions because they wanted to learn.

He was complimentary of Michael Gove’s role in “bringing the sector together” during his time as Environment Secretary between 2017 to 2019. “Gove asked industry what Defra needed to do to reform packaging regulations and waste policy,” Read told the audience.

However, Read said that quickly there was a lot of uncertainty in 2019 and over the next 12 months concerns were raised as lots of plans looked too difficult. One of the reasons this happened is because there are too many subdivisions within Defra, Read contended.

Shrewsbury agreed that the complexity of landing reforms all in one go is very difficult. “Why are we introducing DRS when we don’t know how successful EPR is going to be?” says Shrewsbury. “There’s a lot to go on but we’re missing data.”

She also asked how is the public going to be taken on the journey needed for the reforms to be successful; how will they react? Will they see conventional recycling as valueless? The missing key, Shrewsbury says, is data.

There’s nothing worse than working off a set of assumptions that are at best a guess and at worse inaccurate.

Read was similarly cautious about data. He asked where government are getting their data sets from for consultation documents and policy updates. “There’s nothing worse than working off a set of assumptions that are at best a guess and at worse inaccurate,” Read told delegates.

The chat concluded with Read’s thoughts that industry isn’t pushing the right buttons when attempting to influence the policy machine. Increasingly the Treasury’s position is becoming more important for Defra policies, Read says, so industry has to make reforms relevant to the Treasury and the overall position of the government.

One way of doing this both speakers suggested was to link reforms to the transition to net zero, which drew nods from those in attendance.

09:55 – 10:15 – Connecting the threads of the CPR

Resourcing the Future

Re-Gen Waste’s John Coates took delegates through a definitive timeline of policy to connect the threads of CPR.

Coates began his timeline in 2003 household with the Recycling Act, moving on to 2007’s Packaging Waste Regulations, then into 2011 where we saw recycling separation into four materials – paper, card, metal, plastics and glass, and finally 2016 with separated food waste in NI, Wales and Scotland.

“20 years on, discussions haven’t evolved,” Coates said. “We’re going in the right direction but there is still more to do.”

Coates also said there is a mindset that reforms can’t be done without money. He cited the example of the landfill tax which incentivised the construction of infrastructure projects until LATS was removed in 2014.

20 years on, discussions haven’t evolved.

He also told delegates that Gove’s 25-year Environmental Plan and Resources and Waste Strategy is a good place to start but we need a new champion. Coates described someone with clout who is prepared to drive change forward but said that the sector’s new champion has to come from within the industry not the government.

Coates said that industry must pick up the baton to drive change because of internal competition and infighting within Defra.

Resourcing the FutureHe was also critical of the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 Targets saying that the actions needed to deliver on targets aren’t joined up. Coates highlighted that a lot of the focus is on recycling when the message should be about reducing consumption and reusing more.

Coates also shared some insightful statistics from Re-Gen’s own work. According to the stats, Re-Gen estimates that 30% of the residual waste it handles will be eligible for EPR and 2% will be eligible for a DRS – if the scheme excludes glass. For co-mingled materials, the figure rises to 57% for EPR and 5% for DRS.

He concluded by reiterating the call for consistent collections and highlighted that the reform would also help with a national communications campaign.

10:15 – 10:35 – Plastic Packaging Tax

Resourcing the future

12 months on, what impact has the Plastic Packaging Tax had so far, and what future developments of this tax are on the horizon?

Judith Kelly from HMRC took delegates through these questions and much more.

Why target plastic packaging? Kelly highlighted the landscape at the time as the public was noticeably concerned about plastic. She also shared that plastic packaging makes up 45% of plastic use but 65% of plastic waste; however, these numbers may have evolved since 2018.

Kelly also highlighted that a Call for Evidence from the government shifted the focus of the tax from single-use plastic to plastic packaging.

Resourcing the FutureShe went on to explain that, as a policy lever, the tax is designed to create the right economic incentives to drive change forwards. Kelly said the objectives of the tax are for it to act as an economic incentive to use recycled plastics in packaging, increase demand for recycled plastic, stimulate recycling and collection of plastic waste, and divert plastic from landfill and incineration.

As one of the aims of the tax is to encourage businesses to make greener decisions, a reduction in receipts is anticipated in economic forecasts.

Kelly said HMRC is being “bombarded” with questions regarding when they will evaluate the tax but cautioned that these discussion had to take place at the optimum time. She highlighted that the tax was already being asked to adapt to encourage chemical recycling – the government has launched consultation on a mass balance approach for chemically recycled plastic waste.

Kelly ended the session by sharing data from the first 12 months of the tax. So far, PPT has raised over £260m in 2022-23 and there are over 3,500 registered businesses (not all will pay the tax).

11:20 – 11:40 – Meeting the food collection challenge

In the third session of the day, Claire Cutforth of Cardiff City Council spoke about the difficulties and successes in implementing new waste collection systems.

Cutforth’s talk focussed on the challenges of introducing food waste collection from homes, an essential move that has played a significant role in boosting recycling rates and aiding Cardiff’s aim to reach a 70% recycling rate by 2025.

She highlighted how mandatory recycling targets have propelled Wales into a leading position in recycling. Moreover, the transition to “slim bins” and restricting trade waste at Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) has resulted in notable improvements.

Cutforth disclosed plans to boost recycling further by introducing segregated recycling in the city…

Cutforth disclosed plans to boost recycling further by introducing segregated recycling in the city, moving away from commingled collections, and expanding the collection to a wider range of materials. The council is also considering implementing a three-weekly residual waste collection system.

During a Q&A session, Cutforth acknowledged the challenges that Cardiff will face as it moves from a simple to a more complex recycling system. She mentioned that early communication would be crucial to navigate these challenges and added that flats pose a significant hurdle.

However, she reassured attendees that trials are progressing well, and the majority of the public response so far consists of inquiries rather than negative feedback.

11:40 – 12:00 – The Future of Commercial Collections

Stuart Hayward-Higham of Suez highlighted the need for changes in commercial waste collection to improve recycling rates.

In what Hayward-Higham dubbed the “Age of Intervention,” he called for a unified voice to direct government departments towards necessary actions in waste management. He argued that “good communication”, rather than policy, is key to driving effective performance.

Hayward-Higham pushed for proactive behaviour in the commercial sector to establish best practices rather than waiting for government directives.

He also touted the potential of digital waste tracking in revolutionising the waste industry by providing valuable data, optimising collection routes, and preventing criminal activities related to waste disposal.

12:00 – 12:20 – The communications challenge of the Collection & Packaging Reforms

Rachel Gray from WRAP underscored the importance of public engagement and a robust communication strategy in successfully implementing new recycling materials, services, and systems.

Gray acknowledged the considerable progress made in the last 30 years, with England’s recycling rate increasing from nearly zero to 45%. She expressed optimism, noting that much of this change has occurred without formal policies in place.

Gray urged the industry to harness the power of public opinion, stressing that people are driving the recycling agenda. Bin collections, she noted, consistently garner significant public attention, indicating the public are often a catalyst for change.

Effective communication and engagement strategies can play a vital role in achieving these ambitious goals

Gray said that while recycling might be complex, the key to making impactful changes, such as the proposed Collection Packaging Reforms, lies in convincing people to change their habits. And to do this, we have to keep the messaging simple.

She admitted that altering behaviours is a challenging task, given the range of motivations and barriers that different individuals face.

However, effective communication and engagement strategies can play a vital role in achieving these ambitious goals, she said.

Workshop – DRS: The potential of a digital system

Digital DRS

A digital DRS system offers the public convenience but is it realistic? Howard Davies from the Welsh government explores the discoveries from a pilot scheme run in North Wales.

The objective of the pilot in North Wales was to discover how a digital DRS could be integrated into an existing system.

Davies explained that as part of the pilot consumers were asked to stick a specific sticker with a unique QR code on their bins – each bin had a different QR code depending on the material it’s collecting. Customers scan the code on their product using an app, which then tells them which bin to place the product in.

Once they’ve deposited the product, the final step is to scan the code on the bin to redeem the deposit. If a customer scans the wrong bin code, the app displays an error message. In theory, Davies said, this system would increase the quality of recycling but is based on trust.

The app also sent out push notifications to participants to remind them about kerbside collection dates and times.

Davies said the benefit of this digital scheme is it turns 1.3 million households in Wales into return points, has anti-fraud measures, reduces the burden on retailers, and supports a culture of recycling.

One concern raised by a delegate in the audience was data privacy. As part of the anti-fraud measures, the app could trace a product back to a user, meaning lots of data will be collected, which Davies said would be controlled by the deposit management organisation (DMO). He acknowledged there were serious questions that needed answering about data before the scheme could be scaled.

Davies was also questioned about the role of local authorities, particularly the lost revenue a DRS would cause. He replied that the only solution he could see was for the DMO to pay local authorities as a service provider for managing kerbside collections, regardless of whether a consumer has scanned a product or bin.

14:50 – 15:10 – The place of PRNs in CPR

PRN rtf

The PRN system will continue alongside EPR until 2027, but are the reforms sufficient enough to ensure the system will be fit for purpose in the rapidly changing legislative environment?

George Atkinson, Head of Policy at Valpak, looks to provide an answer. Atkinson started his presentation by emphasising that PRN has achieved its goal of incentivising positive change and ensuring industry met statutory targets each year; however, EPR presents an opportunity to refine the system.

He went on to highlight that recycling targets for all materials apart from wood are lower in 2024 than in 2023, which Atkinson urged the government to relook at, describing amending the targets as “non-negotiable” in light of the delay to Scotland’s DRS.

 Atkinson also said the government should keep under review PRN price stability measures.

Atkinson told delegates that Valpak was disappointed the government were not going to implement price stability measures despite broad industry support during a consultation on potential ways to enhance the PRN system.

What the industry is getting is mandatory monthly reporting and revenue usage reporting, which will improve transparency around cash flows.

Atkinson also highlighted the difference in predicted revenue between the current PRN system and EPR. The PRN system is predicted to generate £490 million in revenue in 2023 compared to £1.7 billion for EPR, which is the government’s estimate for annual revenue.

15:10 – 15:30 – Infrastructure Implications

Household recycling

Paul Sanderson, CEO of the Recycling Association, joined us in this session to explore the implications of DRS and pEPR on end markets and potential solutions.

He started by telling delegates the Recycling Association supports pEPR as, he says, it will benefit markets as new packaging will be designed for recycling and reuse to make recycling a more efficient process.

Sanderson continued that pEPR will benefit end markets because better-designed packaging leads to higher-quality recyclate, especially if collected effectively. The policy will also lead to the development of circular product standards for paper, plastics and potentially other materials.

Sanderson told delegates the Association has already developed product standards for plastic, is working on EoW criteria, and want clarity on export standards.

However, he was critical of DRS policy because, Sanderson says, valuable materials like PET and aluminium will be cherry-picked by a DRS system. He said a scheme will also lead to unnecessary vehicle journeys for both fleets and the public. Sanderson also said the current policy around DRS was complex, whereas recycling should be simple.

He highlighted a digital DRS as a potential solution over a scheme based around RVMs (reverse vending machines).


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