There is a lot of talk of the waste industry becoming a secondary material industry, and the MRF Code of Practice is a great opportunity to drive a step-change in that direction, an ambition Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) fully supports. However, there are issues with quality consistency when sourcing recycled materials. This has a direct impact on the possible uses of the material and also reduces the value for taxpayers and producers who contribute to its collection and sorting.
The expansion of household collection schemes has driven a lot of innovation in the industry whilst increasing recycling rates, but it has done so at the cost of quality. Look at glass as an example; despite more being collected than ever before, less of it is used in remelt applications today than five years ago. This clearly does not deliver the best environmental outcomes, and neither does it encourage investment in the circular economy.
CCE is the country’s biggest user of recycled aluminium cans and plastic bottles and through our partnership with ECO Plastics we are now involved in the world’s largest and most sophisticated plastic bottle reprocessing plant. This gives us a unique insight into the challenges of sourcing the consistent quality and quantity of feedstock materials needed to support major fast moving consumer goods supply chains. Commitments made to stakeholders and customers to use low carbon materials must be upheld, but also need to be based on the confidence that the right materials are available today and will be available tomorrow.
Only when governed by the same standards and processes as the primary material industry, can we ensure the recyclate sector achieves its true potential.
It is crucial that enough suitable material is pulled through the system, and the mandatory minimum requirements proposed in the code of practise are necessary to ensure this happens. However, greater detail on audit processes, data transparency and in particular, quality management systems is required to ensure that the ambition of the proposals is delivered. Only when governed by the same standards and processes as the primary material industry, can we ensure the recyclate sector achieves its true potential.
Primary material suppliers and secondary material end users have long understood that appropriate quality management systems need to be designed to ensure a known quality of output, from a known variability of inputs. Testing must be done on statistically valid sample sizes and at a frequency which reflects the variability of incoming materials. Currently, the proposed sample sizes are simply not enough to provide reassurance to material users, or for MRF operators to truly understand the capability of their processes to drive further value.
CCE has agreed quality standards with all our suppliers, relating to both the materials and our business practices, allowing us to work in partnership with the industry to drive up standards. Together, we continue to fine tune our requirements, sharing the risk and reward of innovation and investment, while long-term contracts ensure this is beneficial for both parties and not just solely focused on the week’s best price.
At a time where circular economy thinking is really gaining some traction, and when quality of materials is too often cited as a barrier, it is important that MRF operators are not only doing the right thing, but are also seen to be doing so. This is another reason why requirements for audit and transparency of data need to be strengthened.
Clearly CCE’s need for a good local source of low carbon materials means we have a keen interest in ensuring this opportunity is driven forward. However, I also genuinely believe that it will be the secondary material providers who best match the needs of materials users, and they in turn will drive more long term value from their operations to achieve success over the next decade.
Nick Brown, associate director for recyling, Coca-Cola Enterprises