Robbie Staniforth, head of policy at Ecosurety says it’s a miracle that resource issues continue to be on both the Government’s and businesses’ agenda
I have been heartened to observe first-hand how seriously UK businesses have started to take their environmental obligations. The dramatic increase in PRN (packaging waste recovery notes) prices for plastic this year has certainly moved conversations from well-meaning middle managers towards the Boardroom.
However, it is not the regularity of how often the packaging regulations are discussed at the top that has given me cause for optimism, but rather the breadth of interest across the many departments of large businesses.
There have been times over the last decade when finding even a single point-of-contact within these companies was difficult to engage with. There were arguments about whether “Sustainability” was a new function, requiring a whole new team, or an addition to the Quality, Health & Safety, Logistics, Procurement or Finance remit.
While a small minority have chosen to move products into problematic unrecyclable alternatives, unable to resist the temptation of being seen to be “doing something”, on the whole packaging professionals are looking for meaningful long-term solutions
Given public attitude towards plastic, and waste more generally, there has also been an understandable increase in interest from the External Affairs or Public Relations departments, looking to protect their brand’s interests and image. Success can be measured by the increasing number of these departments the issue of waste touches.
The key shift though has been the increasing number of conversations with packaging technologists and designers who are all looking to ensure they track ahead of trends. This change has almost certainly not been caused by the vagaries and current expense of the PRN system. Rather it is the looming changes cited in the Government’s Resources & Waste Strategy that are starting to have the desired effect – even before laws have actually changed.
Impressing the importance of recyclability, and meaningful labelling to that effect, has certainly been one of the more helpful elements of the strategy that is starting to be taken seriously. There are those on the outside who say; “nothing will actually change before reforms in 2023”. However, I have already observed changes that would simply not have happened without the signal given by Government.
While a small minority have chosen to move products into problematic unrecyclable alternatives, unable to resist the temptation of being seen to be “doing something”, on the whole packaging professionals are looking for meaningful long-term solutions. Even these well-meaning but ill-fated knee-jerk reactions indicate that if a technological solution can be provided, brands are willing to try them.
A big driver for making early changes is the lead-in times so many of the meaningful actions will require. At a recent meeting discussing packaging labelling, I was amazed to learn that changes were measured in years and millions of pounds, not weeks and thousands.
I will admit that such changes require significant planning and investment, and therefore cost-benefit analysis that is still quite difficult to predict, given the uncertainty around the governance arrangements come 2023. The sooner Government provide a public indication of the magnitude of how fees will be modulated and the criteria that will be used, the sooner the waste management industry will start to see more consistent materials.
The recent Queen’s Speech has given the Government’s policies further credibility as it stated that they would “Transform the way we manage our waste – through powers to ensure that producers take responsibility for the waste they create, introducing a consistent approach to recycling, tackling waste crime, introducing bottle deposit return schemes and more effective litter enforcement. Powers to introduce new charges will minimise the use and impacts of single use plastics.”
This gives yet another positive signal that the principles outlined in the 25-year Environment Plan will come to fruition.
With general political uncertainty prevailing over the last few years, it is a miracle that resource issues continue to be on both the Government’s and businesses’ agenda. It is indicative of the overall sentiment in the country that these issues are simply not dying down. In fact, as I have seen first-hand, they are starting to infiltrate almost all cogs in the business machine.