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National Infrastructure Assessment: time to act on proposals

carton recycling

In July the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) produced the first ever National Infrastructure Assess­ment for the UK. It looks at long-term infrastructure planning and makes rec­ommendations around the needs and priorities of the country and how they should be addressed.

This assessment requires the Govern­ment to respond formally to the recom­mendations made.

The assessment highlights the most important future challenges, but it is the ‘low cost, low carbon’ section that con­tains the most interesting recommen­dations for those of us involved in waste and recycling.

While ACE UK broadly welcomes the recommendations, and they echo our own position in many respects, there are issues which need to be addressed if they are to be implemented.

The recycling targets are very chal­lenging. To meet them we would need to look at expanding what is collected at kerbside to increase volumes and con­sider smaller fraction items such as cartons and potentially paper cups. In support of this, businesses can play their part if collectors of commercial waste can expand their services and recycle more materials, including cartons.

It was recently announced that the beverage carton recycling rate in the EU rose to 47% in 2016, continuing an unbroken upward trend since 2005, which of course is very welcome.

“Countries with the highest recycling rates are those with a consistent collection regime, providing clarity for the public around what can be recycled and where.”

In the UK, carton recycling has been a success story and, during the past 10 years, ACE UK has worked with local authorities to build access to recycling facilities. During that time the number of councils collecting cartons at kerb­side for recycling has risen to 68% from just 6% in 2006. When carton recycling bring banks are included, 92% of authorities now collect cartons.

But, it is widely acknowledged that the countries with the highest recycling rates are those with a consistent collection regime, providing clarity for the public around what can be recycled and where. For example, in those EU member states that have clear methods of separation for waste, some report beverage carton recycling rates as high as 90%.

Here in the UK we have a very disparate framework for recycling. Each local authority has its own system, mak­ing it very difficult for residents to be confident about what they can recycle, how and where. Therefore, ACE UK supports the NIC recommendation for a national standard for household and business recycling because collection consistency across the UK would help to reduce confusion and boost recycling.

We can already see this happening in Scotland and Wales, with the Scottish Household Waste Charter and the Welsh Collaborative Change Programme. Designed to harmonise recycling collec­tions, both are already seeing improve­ments in rates. If we are to get near to the 65% target by 2030, the entire UK will need to take a national approach.

The infrastructure to recycle more cartons already exists. ACE UK’s spe­cialist facility near Halifax in Yorkshire, set up as a joint venture with paper and packaging producer Sonoco Alcore, is capable of recycling up to 40% of the nation’s beverage cartons. But it has got to be easy for people to do this – and that means kerbside collection.

Recycling targets: the Government should set a target for recycling 65% of all municipal waste by 2030.

Recycling: the variation in local authority collections should be addressed by the introduction of a national standard for household and business recycling by 2025.

Labelling: by 2022 a clear, universal two-symbol recycling labelling scheme should be introduced, simply indicating which products are recyclable and which are not.

We also welcome the recommendation around labelling because we have long supported simpler and more con­sistent packaging labelling. ACE UK has been working very closely with OPRL, which runs the UK’s on-pack recycling label scheme, for several years to try to make this happen. Clear infor­mation and labelling for consumers is proven to increase engagement of households in recycling.

ACE UK supports councils by provid­ing free communications materials to help them engage residents in recycling programmes, because we believe that good communication is fundamental to driving up recycling rates and improv­ing recyclate quality.

We also provide a network of bring banks for people to recycle cartons and paper cups – the latest of which have been installed in Cornwall, bringing carton and cup recycling to the county for the first time.

And we continue to work with coun­cils to encourage the collection of car­tons at the kerbside.

So we welcome the proposals in the National Infrastructure Assessment, but what is needed now is the political will to make the recommendations a reality. It will be interesting to see how the Government responds.

Mandy Kelly is senior recycling manager at Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE UK) 

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