How are consistency and quality key to achieving a circular economy? MARK GREENWOOD, Group Health, Safety and Environment Director at DS Smith explains…
It’s been over a year since the European Commission adopted the Circular Economy Package, in an effort to support the transition towards a circular economy. At DS Smith, we’re right at the heart of this movement and doing everything in our power to reduce waste. As
one of Europe’s leading packaging manufacturers, we feel it is our duty to produce environmentally conscious packaging that is as sustainable and efficient as possible.
We feel that any step to reduce waste is a positive one, and we fully support the principles behind the package. Higher waste reduction targets are without doubt important, but European Institutions must be alert to the potential downside of imposing increased recycling targets on countries struggling to meet the current ones.
The recycling process needs to be consistent across the EU, but the reality is that it’s currently not even consistent within individual countries. It’s not unusual for recycling processes to differ from region to region. It does nothing to advance recycling, or indeed the reputation of recycling, to offer different recycling capabilities to residents who share exactly the same waste production patterns. We must therefore look to address this inconsistency, and ensure that every country in the EU has the required infrastructure and resources to properly implement recycling.
Whilst we are in full support of compelling businesses and communities to be more sustainable and work towards a circular economy, we
are concerned that by chasing targets we could be in danger of losing the quality of recycling. Poor quality recycling has many detrimental
effects; apart from increasing waste and cost in the manufacturing process, materials intended for recycling actually end up being burnt or even landfilled if they are heavily contaminated. The key to keeping quality high is proper segregation of recyclables. Better segregation means less contamination, and materials that are segregated as soon as consumers and business discard them, provide the highest quality recycling. It’s vital to get the balance right between quality and quantity, but also to ensure it’s as easy as possible to recycle using infrastructure that facilitates high quality recycling.
Another significant benefit of the Package is that it brings into sharp focus the requirement to do things sustainably. This is something that our customers are already very focused on, but nonetheless it’s a good reminder for the wider business community. Organisations need to have meaningful sustainability goals and be transparent to avoid being labelled green washers.
DS Smith plays a fundamental role in the drive towards a more sustainable future, and packaging and recycling are major enablers of a
circular economy. Good packaging prevents waste and our team of packaging strategists always strive to find the best packaging solution,
using no more material than necessary. That being said, one of the principle roles of packaging is to protect the product and if we don’t use enough material and products become damaged, it has a negative environmental impact. This is especially relevant in the context of the significant growth of e-commerce, with more complex supply chains and higher return rate of goods. Better, smarter packaging is the key to enabling a circular economy.
A circular economy should be our overall goal, and corrugated packaging is an essential part of a closed loop recycling process that minimises waste. In fact, we can go from box-to-box within 14-days with our closed loop model. In this timeframe, our cardboard boxes are made, used, collected, recycled, pulped, pressed and made back into cardboard boxes again.
However, we must acknowledge that a truly closed-loop system is difficult to achieve. We should prioritise finding a second use for recyclable materials first, before consigning them to waste energy plants. It is only possible to recover energy from a material once, so our focus should be on recycling that material up until the point where it no longer becomes practical to do so. After that, energy recovery becomes the next best thing.
LOOK TO THE FUTURE
As we move forward, it is vital that we see greater consistency with recycling across different regions. And we need to make recycling easier and more accessible for people and businesses alike. This is particularly important given the rise of e-commerce, as more and more packaging today ends up in the hands of consumers.
We must also strive to ensure that recycling is financially viable for businesses both big and small; whilst highlighting the financial benefits of doing so. It may be that doing the ‘right thing’ isn’t enough of a driver for some businesses, but by showing them how recycling can boost their bottom line, we hope to get them moving in the right, circular direction.