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QUALITY, DEMAND AND INVESTMENT NEEDED TO STIMULATE UK'S RECYCLING FUTURE.

Commitment from corporate brands to use recycled materials, an upswing in quality and investment in infrastructure are key factors needed for the successful future of the UK's recycling industry. These were the comments from a collection of high-level speakers at 'Recycling the Unrecyclable', a seminar dedicated to the changing recycling landscape in the UK, who said that plateauing household collection rates, China's planned implementation of a ban on certain materials and the uncertainty of UK industry to invest because of high-level failures in recent years were all challenges that needed to be addressed for the industry to move forward but also provided opportunity.

UNDERSTANDING MATERIAL VALUE IS "UTOPIA"

A public understanding of the value of plastics materials would be "utopia" according to Margaret Bates, Professor of Sustainable Wastes Management at the University of Northampton, who said a public understanding of plastics' worth would be the prevention needed to incentivise recycling and stop littering.

She said recycled plastics should not be seen by the consumer as "second best", but of a good enough quality that the user cannot tell the difference between recycled and virgin products and packaging. "Quality is key to how we are going to achieve any circularity," Bates explained. "Brands have to be able to replace virgin materials without the user noticing."

She highlighted optimising material flows and waste management systems that retain quality and value as key pillars of a successful industry, as well as the importance of end-of-life considerations in product design. Ultimately, she said that long-term recycling goals were needed before people had the confidence to invest in infrastructure.

THE CHINESE QUESTION

Commenting on China's new waste rules and regulations, Bernard Chase, Sector Specialist for Plastics at WRAP, said that the true impact is, as yet, unknown. He explained that should China enforce a full ban on any significant amount of plastics from the western world then it would mean "a shift change" for the UK industry that has become so reliant on exporting its waste.

Secondly, he added, it could be that China will no longer accept extremely poor quality waste and instead want higher grades. This, said Chase, would offer "a massive opportunity for UK recycling PLC to sell raw materials." However, the picture is unlikely to be clear until Q1/Q2 next year.

Speakers agreed that in order to prevent recycled materials being processed with no end market, there needs to be a pull from big corporations to commit to using recyclate in their products. Stuart Foster, CEO of RECOUP, said that commitment was needed across the board, not just by one or two big brands, in order to ensure that recyclers do not suffer closures in the same way as high profile cases such as Closed Loop.

Chase added that even if corporations do include the use of recycled products, then they need to make it clear to the consumer through marketing and packaging. "We never see brands shouting about the use of recycled content," he said.

"The consumer is completely unengaged. However, the consumer can exercise choice. If they knew about the recycled materials in their products and chose to buy on that basis, then surely brands that don't use recycled content might lose out to a competitor."

COCA COLA'S GREEN PLEDGE

Continuing the discussions, Nick Brown, Head of Sustainability at Coca Cola, said that the company took the issue of using recycled content seriously as part of its overall sustainability initiatives.

The company earlier this year pledged to increase the amount of recycled plastic in its drinks bottles to 50 percent by 2020 working alongside Clean Teach in Lincolnshire, as well as launching a consumer-focused communications strategy to encourage recycling and prevent littering. There is also a trial being undertaken at the University of Reading to experiment with future alternatives to single-use drinks containers.

However, Brown said that real change for the UK recycling industry would only come with reform of existing systems as well as mandatory requirements for brands to use recycled materials. "We definitely believe companies should be using recycled materials and employing eco-design principles. We need proper public policy interventions to make change happen," Brown told delegates.

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WITH THE GREAT CHALLENGES FACING THE UK PLASTICS RECYCLING INDUSTRY, THERE COMES GREAT OPPORTUNITIES. BUT JUST WHAT ARE THEY, AND WHAT ACTIONS ARE NEEDED TO ENSURE A HIGH QUALITY, HEALTHY AND SUSTAINABLE SECTOR? LEANNE TAYLOR REPORTS.
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Comment:QUALITY, DEMAND AND INVESTMENT NEEDED TO STIMULATE UK'S RECYCLING FUTURE.
Publication:British Plastics & Rubber
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2018
Words:741
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