Simon Weston, director of raw materials at the Conferderation of Paper Industries, says we are in a particularly challenging time for paper manufacturers in the UK, so the outcome and impact of the referenda and the Circular Economy Package are vital to its future
By 24 June, the nation will have decided whether or not the UK has a future within the European Union. In the meantime, stakeholders in many industries, including paper packaging, and waste and recycling, are working on the precise meanings and implications of elements of the European Commission’s (EC) revised Circular Economy package. Much still remains to be decided, but the outcomes of both issues could have a significant impact on our industries.
Across Europe, the paper industry supports the “Remain” campaign. In the words of Director General of the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI), David Workman: “It would take time to negotiate a new relationship with the EU and this would create uncertainty and put future investment in jeopardy.”
It is equally supportive of the concept of a circular economy because our product is renewable, recyclable and bio-based and therefore should be at the core of future thinking about sustainability. However, the industry’s support is not without reservation on either issue.
A Challenging Year
Last year was a challenging one for paper manufacturing in the UK. Despite a decade of heavy investment in new machinery to improve energy efficiency and reduce environmental footprint, 13 paper machines were closed in 2015 with the loss of close to 900Kt of domestic capacity. Much of this is down to environmental policies. A punitive legislative and regulatory regime created by both the EU and the British Government has led to micro-management of the industrial landscape and, at the same time, failed to create a competitive energy market. It is time for a proper UK manufacturing strategy supported by appropriate energy and waste policies that allow UK Energy Intensive Industries to compete globally.
The revised Circular Economy package, published in December last year, headlined a number of issues for attention by the paper industry. As a framework document it lays out a direction of travel. We were disappointed that it focused so heavily on the aftermath of consumption, rather than addressing consumer behaviour. The package is no game changer for the social and industrial fabric of Europe and there is little ambition to encourage the consumers of Europe to adopt a more sustainable approach to the environment.
The most serious challenge for the paper industry in the UK lies in proposed revisions to Article 8 of the Waste Framework Directive (WFD), extending producer responsibility arrangements. The UK market based PRN system is unique in Europe. For paper, it has delivered the packaging recovery targets thus far and to change it would be costly. Moreover, it should not be the responsibility of producers to pick up the bill for reorganising the existing collection system which is largely unable to deliver “high quality” recycling as originally demanded in the WFD.
The European Parliament’s recently released draft position on the Circular Economy Package, produced by rapporteur Simona Bonafè, serves only to heighten the debate on a wide range of topics. The CPI doesn’t agree with proposals contained in the report seeking to shift focus towards re-useable packaging. However, we back recommendations that encourage the use of bio-based materials and we support more ambitious waste and recycling targets. Any revision of targets would be rendered pointless without agreement on a single methodology for calculating recycling and re-use rates across EU Member States. This is central to any further progress.
The paper industry also promotes high quality recycling and supports the view that this is best achieved through separate collection at households, so, as Bonafè demands, we would be in favour of the removal of TEEP to underpin this aim. Finally, as far as end of waste for paper is concerned, we continue to believe that material recovered from the waste stream remains waste until it is converted into something useful, and for paper this occurs at a paper mill.
It will be interesting to see how the debate on these and many other issues develops, particularly in light of the outcome of the EU referendum. These are exciting times for all stakeholders in waste and resources.