Recycling collections must be maintained

The Recycling Association’s chief executive Simon Ellin has written to Defra, asking it to ensure that recycling collections from households are maintained. He says “vital packaging” is needed and there is a risk that less material will be available if councils cut recycling collections.

Many retailers and restaurants have rightly closed their doors with the exception of essential ones such as supermarkets and pharmacies. These are seeing unprecedented demand for food and medical supplies.

However, with other shops closed, high quality retail cardboard, paper, glass, metal cans and plastics packaging are now not there to collect.

Instead, with more home deliveries from supermarkets and the likes of Amazon, more material is likely to be generated by the household.

We’ve got to keep our supply chains open to ensure food and medical supplies can reach those who need it.

Our members are hearing reports from all corners of the world that essential cardboard, paper, glass, metal cans and plastics are in very strong demand. We’ve got to keep our supply chains open to ensure food and medical supplies can reach those who need it.

Indeed, some of our members have increased production to ensure they are playing their part by providing essential products such as toilet rolls, cereal boxes, medicine bottles, plus milk and soft drinks bottles.

I know there is great pressure on resources at the moment, but local authorities must maintain standards to ensure we receive decent quality material. They should also keep collecting material to be recycled.


We know it is very difficult for councils at the moment, and I have utmost respect for those who are out and about everyday emptying our bins while trying to stay safe. These key workers are essential for enabling us to keep supplies flowing.

But we need to provide our supply chains with material. If you think about cardboard, so much in our supermarkets comes in cardboard boxes – everything from eggs to frozen fish fingers. Most of the time, even products using plastic, metals and glass packaging are delivered to supermarkets in protective cardboard boxes.

If you think about medicine bottles or tubes, these are often protected by a cardboard box too. I know there is strong demand for essential recycled cardboard from manufacturers right now.

So much in our supermarkets comes in cardboard boxes – everything from eggs to frozen fish fingers

Or if you take the example of glass, there is strong demand from the glass bottle manufacturers for recycled glass because they are manufacturing more medicine bottles and food jars. But we are hearing that glass collections are being cut by some councils, particularly in Scotland.

Across all materials, it is essential that councils keep collecting especially with commercial collections from many shops and restaurants not possible now they have closed.

Additionally, I have asked Defra to keep export markets open as the essential goods we need don’t necessarily come from here in the UK. We therefore have to supply world markets so that they can send their goods back to us.

Markets for recycled materials may become harder to access over the coming weeks and months, and there is a possibility we may need to store material, especially if quality standards drop and international markets look elsewhere.

I have asked Defra to consider lighter touch regulation and business rate relief on storage if this comes to pass. But if we keep recycling collections going and keep quality standards high, hopefully we won’t get to this point.

Letter to Defra

The full letter to Defra (below) was sent on Monday 23 March, prior to all non-essential shops being asked to close. 

Providing raw materials for the packaging of essential food and medical supplies 

The measures undertaken by the Government to mitigate the damage caused by coronavirus have been substantial, vital and have helped members of The Recycling Association conduct collections and recycling of secondary materials.

In particular, I welcome that it was recognised that those involved in the collection of waste are key workers.

These collections also include paper/cardboard, plastic, metal and glass packaging that have protected food and medical supplies and ensured the nation has been kept fed and our wonderful National Health Service and pharmacies have been able to access vital drugs and equipment. Some of our members that are both recyclers and producers have ramped up production of cardboard boxes, toilet rolls, tissues and other products in order to meet demand.

Companies including McDonalds, John Lewis, Nandos, Primark and others have all rightly announced their intention to close their shops and restaurants until we are over the coronavirus outbreak.

However, this means that a vital supply of typically good quality material is no longer available to be recycled. The experience of our members suggests that retail cardboard/paper and plastics are usually of a higher standard than from domestic collections. This means it is more efficiently recycled and can be turned back into new high-quality products more easily.

With the exception of supermarkets, much retail material will not be available for the foreseeable future, and therefore our members will need to recycle more material collected by households from local authority collections.

As mentioned, this material is typically of lower quality and it will impair our ability to recycle this material efficiently when we need to provide these raw materials to the market. Any further drop in standards could greatly inhibit our ability to produce raw materials for high quality packaging for food and medical supplies.

There is likely to be a temptation for local authorities to lower standards further during the crisis, but I ask you to remind households and councils of the need to continue providing high quality recycling collections at the same frequency as now so that we can quickly turn these materials into new and vital products. We are aware some councils have already dropped collection of certain materials due to the crisis, and this could harm our ability to provide these materials to manufacturers.

As you will be aware, our supply chains are global and we provide these global supply chains with the material to turn into new packaging or products. It is therefore of utmost importance that we can send material where there isn’t the capacity in the UK to recyclers in Europe and Asia in particular. Indeed, as we are still importing food, medical supplies and other essentials, these manufacturers are wanting our recycled raw materials. Therefore, I ask that Defra keeps exports of recyclate available and uses the diplomatic channels of the Government to request other nations keep open their ports and logistical systems to ensure material can reach manufacturers.

It is also important that we do not undertake any actions that have unintended consequences such as requiring inspectors from the UK environment agencies to remove themselves from work, even if they aren’t displaying any symptoms of coronavirus. A full-scale shutdown of the inspection regime would inhibit the ability of our members to send materials to manufacturers abroad.

I also understand that some companies are now advising staff not to accept signatures on either paper or digital devices, but signed documentation is a requirement of the Annex VII form for the Transfrontier Shipment Regulations. I am concerned that the transport company is a key party on an Annex VII form and the driver is required to sign and handle the form. We need either clarity on how signatures in this situation should be provided or ideally lighter touch regulation to enable us to continue to send our excess material abroad.

In turn, if we don’t keep the export market open, this could lead to requirements to store more recyclable materials until the crisis has passed. Indeed, it is likely that we will need to find more storage space for materials, even if we maintain open markets into UK recyclers, Europe and Asia. On behalf of our members, I ask you to ensure there is lighter touch regulation when it comes to site permits for storing waste materials and assist the recycling industry in finding storage solutions for the excess of materials we are likely to find ourselves having to handle.

It would be particularly helpful if the recycling industry was given business rate relief for additional storage it might have to hire during the period of the crisis.

These are particularly challenging times for everyone in the UK, and as a strategic industry that provides collections of secondary raw materials, and recycles them into new products, we are doing everything we can to ensure supply of packaging for medical supplies, supply of toilet rolls, soft drink and milk bottles, cardboard boxes containing breakfast cereals and many other products essential to our daily life.

We appreciate the support your Government has given our industry so far, and ask that you consider the measures contained in this letter to ensure we are able to empty the bins and allow manufacturers and retailers to keep shelves well-stocked.

Yours sincerely, 

Simon Ellin, Chief Executive, The Recycling Association

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