In a post ‘Blue Planet’ world packaging recyclability is top of the agenda for consumers, who are looking for more environmentally responsible choices. But it is no longer enough for manufacturers to produce packaging that can be recycled, increasingly consumers expect them to take responsibility for end of life solutions for the packaging they put on the market. To meet consumer expectations packaging must actually be collected for recycling and have a route into suitable reprocessing facilities in its markets.
In response to increased public concerns, the UK Government has launched several major consultations looking at recycling, its infrastructure, and who bears the cost of funding end of life solutions. Whilst these consultations are challenging, they also have the potential to be a positive game-changer for recycling in the UK. Developed in a co-ordinated way they present an opportunity to shape a more sustainable packaging industry for the future and help to build a flourishing domestic waste industry – ultimately driving a commercial circular economy for the UK.
To achieve this, the consultations need a joined-up approach. Across the supply chain, companies in both the packaging and waste management industries need to work together to achieve a coherent outcome so that commonly specified packaging materials align with domestic recycling collections and build the necessary recycling infrastructure and capacity in the UK.
ACE UK have direct experience of working across the supply chain to create end of life solutions. In the last 10 years we have worked collaboratively with local authorities and waste management companies driving carton collection from 6% of local authorities in 2006 to 94% today. Our focus is now on meeting our target of 75% kerbside collection of cartons, which we are prioritising expect to deliver by the end of the year.
REFORMING RESPONSIBILITY SYSTEM
Probably the most important of the consultations for the packaging industry is the reform of the producer responsibility system. As well as seeking views on measures to increase the amount of packaging that can be recycled and reduce difficult to recycle packaging, this consultation proposes that the net costs of packaging waste are placed on producers and users who are best placed to influence its design.
Ultimately for this consultation to deliver its potential benefits, the system needs to channel funds into developing recycling infrastructure which, with the closure of export markets such as China, is massively short on capacity. Packaging producers need to see the additional cost burden directly linked to the development of better and more reprocessing capabilities in the UK, delivering greater quantities of quality recyclate to meet increasing demand. This will help packaging producers increase the recycled content in packaging.
Although changes to the EPR system would be a major challenge for the packaging industry, ACE UK members have shown it can be done. Over the last 10 years our members have funded a network of bring banks for local authorities to recycle cartons and paper cups and built the UK’s only dedicated carton recycling facility, located near Halifax, West Yorkshire enabling large scale recycling of the nation’s beverage cartons.
Our focus now is on driving the uptake of carton recycling through local authorities’ own kerbside collections. Kerbside recycling has been proven to significantly improve volumes of materials collected for recycling as it makes it simple and easy for consumers to recycle items. Currently kerbside collection of cartons stands at 68% but we are working with the remaining local authorities and their waste management contractors to achieve 75% coverage. We are confident we can achieve this and put cartons in the widely recycled category.
CONSISTENCY IN COLLECTIONS
The public, industry and other stakeholders have been calling for greater consistency in the materials collected for recycling in the UK for many years. ACE UK wholeheartedly supports a more consistent approach as we believe it will reduce confusion amongst householders, increase recycling, reduce contamination and ultimately realise savings across the whole supply chain.
ACE UK is keen to see cartons included in the core collection materials, boosting kerbside collection and helping us to drive greater volumes to our UK recycling plant.
As a member organisation representing the leading beverage carton manufacturers for the UK market, Elopak, SIG Combibloc and Tetra Pak, and which also operates the industry carton recycling bring bank scheme and dedicated recycling facility, we are well-placed to take a wider view. It seems clear that a coordinated, whole supply chain approach has the potential to deliver better outcomes for retailers, industry, local authorities and for the environment.
Whatever the outcome of the consultations, achieving a 20% increase in recycling to hit the 65% target set by the National Infrastructure Commission, is going to be a challenge for all involved. We need to look at every opportunity to make this happen.