The start of 2017 was not promising for the waste and recycling industry, says Robbie Staniforth, commercial manager at Ecosurety. He asks if 2018 could be the year the UK finally wakes up to plastic recycling.
The start of 2017 was not promising for the waste and recycling industry. Over the past 12 months I’ve lost count of the number of occasions I’ve heard the phrase “in the fullness of time” at conferences and events to attempt to answer the torrent of questions caused by the regulatory uncertainty of Brexit.
But the industry has caught its breath and is now pressing ahead in many different areas.
The mere inclusion of the words “recycling”, “resources” and “the Circular Economy” in recent government strategies provides real hope the sector and producer responsibility will be incorporated into future plans.
The BEIS Clean Growth Strategy was particularly helpful and outlined key areas where UK Plc could help the government to shape objectives for the future. However, I await Defra’s 25-year Environment Plan and the Resources and Waste Strategy before gauging whether Government will make good on their manifesto commitment to leave the environment in a better state than they found it.
A coherent and wide-ranging strategy for example would help us not get blindsided the individual issues of litter, DRS and China’s decision not to accept our contaminated plastic.
“A coherent and wide-ranging strategy for example would help us not get blindsided the individual issues of litter, DRS and China’s decision not to accept our contaminated plastic.”
Though there was only one nod in the Government’s recent Industrial Strategy: Building a Britain Fit for the Future, it was a significant one. With uncertainty over the extent to which the UK will adopt the EU’s Circular Economy package, it was relief to hear Government talking about “transitioning to a Circular Economy” in one of their own documents. OK, actions speak louder than words, but I take great heart from simply seeing it in black and white in an official document. Somebody, somewhere is listening.
There is also further progress on a potential single-use plastics tax mentioned in last month’s Autumn statement. While politicians seek a silver bullet, I very much hope the recycling community can support the under-pressure plastics industry to suggest the legislation we really need. We must also seriously look at the practice of sending plastics far away to be recycled, tonnage-based targets, collections versus recycling targets, and consumer behaviour.
The time has also come for the UK to really scrutinise the reasons why it exports plastic waste. Is it enough to simply meet targets, or by creating a higher quality raw material for export could the UK be part of a virtuous circle? When we see the images of floating plastic, most of the wrappers show the main culprit to be the West. Don’t we want to know exactly where our plastic ends up?
With all signs pointing to China getting serious about maintaining its newly-imposed quality thresh-holds next year, there is potential for the UK to create a market for the raw plastic and export the material. Until now, the UK has never needed to consider creating a manufacturing sector to reuse raw plastic material. That decision could come back to bite us if the WTO doesn’t succeed in organising a five-year extension.
But for this to happen, the UK needs better segregation of material at source, not to mention a national strategy to tackle the “on the go” recycling issue.
With the work of the OPRL (On-Pack Recycling Label) continuing at pace, there is hope for consumer recycling engagement. More information of this type could help heal the disconnect between consumers and recyclers.
Instead of being a nation of shopkeepers that trades away its problems, the UK has the potential to evolve into a nation of recyclers. This way, we could ensure our plastic does not end up in the ocean, we could recycle our own waste, and build a recycling infrastructure that provides quality material to countries around the world.
Sound far-fetched? Eighteen months ago we didn’t think the UK would leave the EU, now we’re talking about borders between England the Republic of Ireland. In the present climate, nothing should be ruled in, or out.