It is possible the whole waste and recycling industry landscape will have changed by the time next issue of MRW comes out, if Defra’s resource and waste strategy lives up to expectations.
But what if instead of the far-reaching policies the industry wants, we end up with a series of vague aspirations and voluntary schemes? Let’s not forget that environment secretary Michael Gove is highly skilled in the political arts. He has proved popular with many industry figures, but he has been studious in not making too many definite promises.
Defra trots out its line on ’world leading’ microplastics, straws and cotton buds bans with great regularity. But these account for a tiny amount of the overall waste stream, and Gove has not been forthcoming on policies that would make a huge difference such as introducing minimum recycled content for manufacturers.
The EU Parliament has voted for 35% minimum recycled content in plastic bottle, Gove’s claim that the UK is going further than the EU on resources policy will ring hollow if the UK does not follow this example.
And it seems unlikely the UK will follow. In his Budget, chancellor Philip Hammond included a tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content, a policy that surely would not be needed if the EU rules were adopted.
The Conservatives have long been advocates for the “invisible hand” of market forces to sort everything out. Further down the line, technological advancements in the waste industry could indeed change the landscape for good.
MRW has been approached by an increasing number of chemical recycling ventures, where plastics are broken down to their constituent parts.
This issue includes a focus on the Demeto project that uses microwaves to break down PET. Recycling Technologies, Plastic Energy and PowerHouse Energy are other firms that have come up with novel ways of chemical recycling.
But it could be many years before these developments have any significant impact on UK plastics waste. In the meantime, some councils have stopped their plastics recycling services and the Environment Agency is apparently failing to come to grips with illegal exporting. Something drastic needs to be done sooner rather than later.