Although the changed rules imposing a maximum 0.5% contamination level in imported materials present a ‘huge challenge’ in the short term, the UK should be looking at the opportunities this situation creates.
Surely now the UK Government could consider supporting the growth of a strategic and sustainable resource recovery industry in the UK to feed valuable materials into UK manufacturers.
A ‘supportive legislative framework’ would be needed to produce the right conditions for a ‘healthy, strategic resource economy’ in the UK.
Key factors in developing these robust business models would be:
- identifying stable, long-term sources of waste products as input feedstocks
- building business partnerships with collaborative shareholders that bridge the main exchange points in the circular economy for taking collected waste materials back into new-life products so ‘interested parties’ share the mutual benefits
- creating a competitive circular flows of materials back into multiple manufacturing sectors, such as construction, vehicles, electronics, and packaging.
Further action should include public sector procurement measures, which favour sustainable products both in design and use of recycled materials, and encouraging new product design with mandatory use of recycled/recovered materials at high percentage levels.
What’s needed is a reward structure for doing this and we fully support this type of approach. Carrots, not sticks, are needed to make real changes in organisations. Michael Gove’s recent announcement of a series of measures that focus on increasing the quality and volume of collected post-consumer packaging waste is a good start. But measures should also be in place to stimulate demand for recycled materials in new products.
Environmental Audit Committee
The Commons Select Committee the EAC (Environmental Audit Committee) made this point just before Christmas, calling for a producer responsibility compliance fee structure that stimulates the use of recycled plastic, rewards design for recyclability, and increases costs for packaging that is difficult to re-use or recycle.
The EAC called for the introduction of a mandatory requirement of 50% recycled content in the production of new plastic bottles by 2023. This would create demand and stimulate a circular economy for plastic bottles; fitting with suggestions made by the BPF Recyclers Group over the last five years.
Recycled material can be bought from anywhere in the world; clearly the best place to buy it would be from locally-sourced and secure, short-supply chains within the same economy and same currency.
If we could get some real Government engagement on a clear industrial strategy that involves sourcing materials from a vibrant, growing technology-based materials recovery sector; that would be a significant strong point for the UK going forward in a post-Brexit world.’
Keith Freegard is director of Axion Polymers, part of Axion Group, that develops and operates innovative resource recovery and processing solutions for recycling waste materials in Manchester, UK.