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A need to ensure our recycling future

I have been talking for some time about the current packaging waste recovery note (PRN) situation and the ongoing practice of shipping plastic bottles overseas for recycling. I believe, as do others in the industry, that a lack of legislation enforcement is threatening the development of the UK recycling industry and the green economy.

On 4 October, I was invited to attend a dinner debate in the European Parliament, focusing on how to increase recycling in Europe and, specifically, on the exports issue. The aim of this meeting was to ask the Environment Committee to pass a resolution asking the European Commission to act on the waste exports.

The meeting was hosted by MEP Anna Rosbach, who has written in the past about the ‘plastic soup’ phenomenon and the pollution of our seas by waste plastic. It was attended by representatives of the Directorate-General for the Environment, including head of marine unit Claude Rouam and head of sustainable production and consumption Artemis Hatzi-Hull, as well as heads of recycling organisations in Europe.

A presentation was put forward by EU Parliament president Bernard Merkx, which was followed by a sharing of views. Merkx pointed out that as China heads towards becoming a net exporter of waste, nations will need to ensure they have modern and effective infrastructure in place to reprocess the collected material streams into useful products.

The current situation sees the EU export two-thirds of this valuable plastic resource, therefore starving the development of infrastructure across the continent. I took the opportunity to highlight to delegates that member states need to ensure that
any material exported is done so within the current shipment rules on waste movement. This will ensure that a level playing field is in place for all industry participants.

I also expressed the view that the development of the industry requires four key innovations:

  • greater harmonisation of collection systems across Europe
  • closer monitoring of existing legislation
  • an increase in mechanical recycling targets for plastics to 45% under the Waste Framework Directive
  • scrutiny of exported material to ensure it is reprocessed within prudent and safe practices.

Merkx then described the positive role the public sector could play in the development of this young industry by supporting products that contain recycled content. He said there needs to be a generational shift to ensure that Europe is ready for the change in recycling more, demanding more recycled content and reprocessing more, that is fast approaching.

My belief is that the UK is best positioned at the moment to support an industry that will provide thousands of jobs and save thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions.

This is a belief mirrored by many other industry stakeholders, and the message coming out of last Monday’s debate was loud and clear: we need to act now to ensure the future of our recycling industry, green job creation and the protection of our environment for future generations. We have now moved one small step closer following this European Parliament debate.

The evening closed with a stirring commitment by Rosbach to champion the message about exports and legislation within the halls of power in Brussels.

Chris Dow is managing director of Closed Loop Recycling

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