It was a great experience to attend the Plastic Recycling Expo in Telford and learn about the transformation of the waste management companies in the UK and how the UK industry is collaborating to increase recycling levels. The key learnings were: market opportunity, packaging design and collaboration.
We are seeing a widening gap between sustainable resource availability and demand. A market reality where an economic and social risk of materials supply is eminent, as well as, an extreme volatility in the commodity markets.
Production and consumption based on a linear model – take, make and dispose – are contributing to high levels of waste generation. Landfilling is no longer an option specially on cities that have space limitation. In addition to that, when the waste is not managed properly, it will end up on the streets, contaminating our rivers and oceans.
The European Union is discussing a Circular Economy Package as a way to increase recycling rates and stimulate better and circular product design to avoid waste generation.
Market opportunity: Waste management companies are adapting their business model to, not only collect the waste, but transform it into a new material: waste as a resource. Waste Management Company Veolia has launched their new tagline “Resourcing the World and Biffa has created a new line of business Biffa Polymers showing that it makes business sense to treat the waste further and re-sell it as a resource. This contribute to minimize the risk of materials supply when an alternative material is available, additional income for the company and a positive closed loop opportunity.
Packaging design: Axion Consulting has discussed the new Circular Economy Packaged and the challenge of reaching the 70% recycling target that they are expecting to establish. He has argued that the missing link is that the award is not on the market pull and that we should be offering awards and capital allowances on the use of recycled material. We should stop measuring at point of waste and engage designers to stop making un-recyclable packaging. Louis Lindeberg, Unilever Director of Global Packaging Sustainability has also emphasized that design for circularity should be mandatory. Vannaren systems have shown the work being done with their clients to create high end industrial products based on recycled plastics and emphasized that product development for recycled plastics should be identical to virgin plastics. It requires an integrated system approach similar to the one we have for ordinary material with the recycling industry, the waste companies and product developers working together.
Collaboration: A very common theme among the speakers: it is essential to have the value chain working together to increase plastic packaging recycling. Some very good examples were presented: The Reflex Programme lead by Axion Recycling to involve the entire value chain to re-think packaging design and the PIRAP Programme – Strategy for collaboration managed by WRAP involving the British Plastic Federation, Plastics Europe, Food and Drink Federation, packaging designers, waste management companies and end users such as Coca Cola. “If we want to recycle more, we need to collect more. We must work on improving materials sorting and separation, technical innovation throughout the process and look at the demand side by developing new markets for recycled material” said Claire Shrewsbury Packaging Programme Manager at WRAP (UK Waste Resource Action Programme)
Certainly, all of this does not happen easily. An efficient waste collection system must be in place, as well as, the appropriate technology and skills for waste recycling. Financial incentives for business to use recycled material will contribute to the market pull and consumer awareness campaigns like the UK plastics recycling initiative “Pledge 4 plastics – recycle one more bottle a week and give it the chance to be reborn as a great new product” will certainly help people to understand the value of recycling and accelerate the transition to the circular economy.
Therefore, we can start learning from these experiences and by working together with international partners we can co-create tailored projects and leap frog solutions to Brazil.