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Industry Insight: commentators and respondents have their say

MRW’s Industry Insight 2017 was unveiled at RWM and included both in a special issue of MRW for the industry event and in our October issue. See the links below for the survey itself and our report on it - here we present some of the reaction wihtin the industry.

phillip ward

phillip ward

Phillip Ward, owner, Falcutt consultancy

“I am not surprised by the signals from the industry that they are looking for Government leadership and more standardised systems. These issues have been around for some time and we can see the difference they make in places other than England.

“I was heartened by the recognition of the benefits of greater investment in reprocessing capacity. Our reliance on exports has led to mistrust about the real levels of recycling, and that is sup­ported by the call for greater clarity about what happens to materials people put out for collection.

See the survey here | Read our report

“I was disappointed that away from home recycling did not get more sup­port. I guess I will just have to keep on making the case for that.”

Michael Bennett, managing director, Pelican Communications

michael bennett

michael bennett

“For many years I have advocated an industry-wide promotional cam­paign, similar to the old ‘Recycle Now’ campaign.

“Unless the industry promotes a sin­gle positive message, it will not build enough goodwill with the public to fend off the negative media stories which are all too easy for journalists or misin­formed celebrities with an agenda to find – disposable coffee cups being a perfect example. Strong, simple mes­sages that tell people about the key materials that they can recycle and the benefits recycling delivers are what is needed.

“This, combined with harmonisation of collections, would make life a lot easier for the public and over time create better understanding and appre­ciation of the sector.

“Yes, it will need funding. But surely there are enough waste management companies, packaging firms, brand owners and retailers with a shared interest who can contribute and per­suade the Government to put its hand in its pocket?”

Lee Marshall, chief executive, Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee

lee marshall

lee marshall

“Brexit is such a huge issue. While we in the waste sector are all involved in it, you get the feeling that, from a Government point of view, we are going to be very low down on the list of things that are important during the process.

“When the lady and gentleman on the Clapham omnibus get involved pas­sionately in waste, that’s when Govern­ments take notice.”

Jacob Hayler, executive director, Environmental Services Association

jacob hayler

jacob hayler

“On the big Brexit ques­tion, it is interesting that a whopping two-thirds of respondents either think that our exit from the EU will not have an impact or that the impact will be positive. With the remaining 35% expecting their business to shrink, Brexit uncertainty clearly remains a live issue for the waste and recycling sector.

 “Around three-quarters of respond­ents believe that expanding producer responsibility would have a significant or profound impact on recycling rates. At the same time, only one in five claimed to support transferring second­ary resource ownership from councils to product supply chains.

“But it seems highly unlikely that we could ask producers to pay more money into the system without giving them a greater say over how it is run. Resolving this tension will be crucial if we are to successfully implement more producer responsibility in the future.

“It is disappointing to see that 35% of respondents are under the misappre­hension that we have too much energy-from-waste capacity, although perhaps it is mildly encouraging that the other two-thirds disagree with this view. The reality is that the UK is at significant risk of undercapacity for residual waste treatment, which is one of the most pressing issues currently faced by an industry crying out for more invest­ment.”

Helen Jordan, sustainability issues executive, British Plastics Federation

helen jordan

helen jordan

“The British Plastics Feder­ation (BPF) Recycling Group was pleased to see that the major­ity of the responses to the MRW survey aligned with its recent Recycling Strat­egy as well as the Plastics Industry Recy­cling Action Plan.

“Harmonisation of collections is something which the plastics industry has lobbied for over a number of years, as well as ensuring there is clear com­munication to the public. With 74% of survey respondents also feeling this would improve the impressions of the industry, it is clear this should be a focus for policy-makers.

“The BPF Recycling Group has cam­paigned for more investment in the UK with a split target for packaging recov­ery target for plastics. It therefore welcomes more than 80% of respond­ents thinking that investment in UK reprocessing capacity will have a signif­icant or profound impact on the recy­cling rate.

“With the recent announcement from China on bans for certain plastic packaging, this is even more vital.

“Lack of Government leadership was clearly an area which the industry agrees is a problem. There was a mixed response to how useful targets are at driving up UK recycling.

“This may reflect the concern that a focus on high weight-based targets leads to a concentration on collecting large and heavy quantities of recycling rather than on the quality of this material. This is specially a concern for plas­tic materials because they are very light.

“But Wales, which has higher targets for recycling, has currently a much higher recycling rate than England due to its ‘carrot and stick’ approach.

“The BPF Recycling Group feel s that increasing the use of recycled content is key to driving up recycling rates. It is therefore encouraging that to make a significant difference to manufactur­ers’ resource efficiency, 31% of respond­ents chose VAT relief on the use of recycled material and another 15% chose prescribed percentage of recycled materials.

“The survey confirms the joint view on many key issues in the recycling industry and therefore an opportunity to work together to overcome them.”

Nick Kemp, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and regulatory services, Newcastle City Council

nick kemp

nick kemp

“I am not convinced that targets are valuable – sometimes they deflect you from your ambitions and lead you into a cul-de-sac. I am erring towards avoiding targets in our forth­coming strategy.

“Our attention should be on how to recycle better rather than, say, achieve an additional 3%. There are so many nuances within Newcastle – it is remarkably diverse but small in scale. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.”

Margaret Bates, president, Chartered Institution of Wastes Management

margaret bates

margaret bates

“As far as targets are con­cerned, why are we split­ting up household from commercial & industrial waste? A plastic bottle is a plastic bottle. Why are we still looking at weight-based targets? We don’t actu­ally know what we are trying to achieve and what that end game looks like. You cannot shoot at a goal when you don’t know where the goal is.

“Local recycling targets are useful – and perhaps are more of a driver in England than national targets.

“We are in a sector that employs a lot of people and there is a huge amount of potential, economically, socially and environmentally. But we cannot convince the Government that it is something it should value upfront.

“And we cannot convince young peo­ple that they want to work in the indus­try. People fall into the sector and then stay – there are very few that specifically go into it.

“In waste terms, the public are the very definition of ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’. I often see friends post on Facebook, ‘we should ban plas­tics from supermarkets’. Well, that’s fine if you only buy seasonally. If food has been imported from halfway across the world, chances are it has some form of protection.”

A sample of respondents’ comments

  • “We need strategic waste and recycling decisions from a rudderless government, which seems to think everything will be ok. Councils need funds to tell residents to take more responsibility for the waste they produce and what is expected of them. The laissez-faire approach doesn’t work any more.”
  • “Cut budgets at local authority level often means that following the waste hierarchy is not always possible. Sometimes recovery or landfill is cheaper than recycling or EfW, respectively.”
  • “Facilities to collect and recycle [all sorts of] packaging should be the minimum available in every major stretch of shops.”
  • “Solid recovered fuel should be classed as recycling as the amount of process that takes place changes the entity of the waste into a usable product.”
  • “Build more incinerators.”
  • “More needs to be done to encourage people/ business to prevent waste in the first place. It is far too easy to pass unwanted stuff on to the waste industry and make it their problem.”
  • “The cost of environmental compliance has now increased to the point where my business is no longer viable – we can no longer compete with illegal operators.”
  • “Plasma gasification plants would allow for ‘recycling’ of all non-recyclable materials by making waste into synthetic natural gas. If constructed, current EfW deals could become unlawful as an EU directive puts recycling above recovery.”

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