Prime minister Theresa May’s pledge to reduce plastic waste is a welcome step, but it is merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of tackling the real issue of non-biodegradable waste that blights the UK.
If the Government had sought input directly from people at the coalface of the waste industry, who are tackling these issues daily, then perhaps the environmental proposal would be sensible, achievable and also have the backing of industry.
There is an incredible amount of expertise in our sector, and I know that myself and my peers would welcome the Government utilising our resources to help tackle this issue.
Furniture is a huge recycling problem that is currently being underestimated. Due to the rise of flat-pack furniture and our throwaway culture, people are sending more and more furniture to landfill with very little being done to recycle these items. But our landfill sites are limited.
As Mary Creagh, former Defra shadow secretary, highlighted on Sky News, mattresses pose a specific problem. More than seven million of them go to UK landfill each year – enough to fill Wembley Stadium five times over.
UK mattress manufacture generates 440,000 tonnes a year of CO2e in greenhouse gas emissions. If 50% of items comprised recycled material, then emissions would be cut by 34% and 85,000 tonnes of raw materials would be saved.
The Furniture Recycling Group has recycled more than a million mattresses and plans to significantly increase this in the next two years.
But to achieve our aim of diverting all mattresses from landfill, we need more support from the Government, and I would welcome the opportunity to sit down with environment secretary Michael Gove to discuss the real problems around mattress recycling.
The Government needs to implement legally enforceable producer responsibility schemes not just for plastic bags, but for all areas of waste. Such a recycling levy on all products that are not biodegradable would pay for the responsible recycling of those goods at the end of their life.
It would also make manufacturers far more likely to consider recycling when they develop new products.
Although this will affect the initial cost of goods by driving them upwards, from a waste strategy perspective, making items more expensive will no doubt see consumers less likely to throw away or update items as often as they do now, which can only be a good thing.
Nick Oettinger is the director of the Furniture Recycling Group