Mixed plastics recycling represents a great business opportunity for UK Plc and one that is only going to get bigger as EU targets increase. Economically, the imperative is to take advantage of the financial benefits of internalising resource recovery and becoming less reliant on overseas processing capacity. This will create jobs via the circular economy and increase security of supply.
Already we face challenging recycling targets for packaging waste over the period 2013-17 which means plastic packaging recycling levels need to double over this five year period. Increasing household participation will be pivotal to reaching these targets as, overall, we already lag behind Scandinavia and German and currently have a plastic bottle recycling rate of only 58% - despite it being easily the most valuable plastic in the black bag.
What has made a difference is improved treatment technology to take into account the wide range of different polymers and the need for critical mass by polymer. We have recently doubled the capacity of our Rainham plastics recovery facility to 100,000 tonnes a year, which can separate plastics by polymer and colour types and create significant carbon savings. The next stage will be to utilise asset tracking which isn’t as far away as people might think.
However, despite this investment, there is still a significant shortfall in domestic reprocessing capacity which means the UK is missing the opportunity to process more plastics back into plastic products. And if a new Government-backed campaign led by Recoup to help boost household plastic recycling is successful that shortfall could get even greater.
Pledge4Plastics is a cross-industry campaign that includes brand owners like Coca Cola Enterprises, Nestlé, Marks & Spencer, Unilever and Veolia, local authorities and reprocessors. It is targeting significant increases in the collection of plastic packaging for recycling and reducing the five billion plastic bottles sent to landfill sites each year by encouraging people to make a promise to recycle just one more bottle – for full details see pledge4plastics.co.uk
To highlight the many ways plastic can be given a new life if recycled correctly, the campaign recognises that allowing people to see the end product of their recycling efforts as a resource is the most effective method of encouraging people to recycle.
It is a theme we use repeatedly in the visitor centres of our materials recovery facilities across the UK, where people don’t just want to know what we’re recycling but the secondary materials we’re creating too.
So to promote the campaign to a younger audience, Abigail Ahern, who has a collection at Debenhams and recently starred in Channel 4’s ‘Get Your House in Order’, has channelled her distinct quirky style to design her first ever bespoke phone cover, which is made from 80% recycled plastic bottles. There are 1,000 limited edition phone covers that have been designed exclusively for Pledge4Plastics, to reward those who register their support online throughout September at pledge4plastics.co.uk or tweet @pledge4plastics.
Our experience is that most people support recycling in principle, but boosting participation is all about engaging with them in innovative ways and helping local authorities tailor the message to their residents.
Thanks to a comprehensive toolkit developed by Kent Resource Partnership and Surrey County Council, the Pledge4Plastics campaign can be implemented by councils nationwide. It can be downloaded from http://www.pledge4plastics.co.uk/toolkit-download.
There is no doubt that a successful campaign will highlight the significant capacity gaps in UK regional infrastructure to treat valuable materials which arise as wastes and could be reused to create new materials and energy.
So let’s start thinking about the big picture – let’s use our combined resources to back a consumer campaign built on simple and consistent messaging. And if the end result is the spur to create more investment in UK processing capacity and more jobs in the circular economy, then so much the better.
Richard Kirkman is technical director at Veolia