If the UK is to introduce some form of extended producer responsibility to boost recycling rates of plastic packaging, then it must be time to link the performance of an organisation’s products with how well they perform within the current systems for end-of-life materials recovery.
Unless there is a mechanism that allows organisations to benefit financially from ‘doing the right things’ in terms of designing product and packaging for high levels of recovery, there is no incentive for the early adopters of circular economy (CE) practices to make the necessary changes to their in-house design procedures.
A company that commits to change and then delivers a complete reappraisal of its grocery or other packaging product designs, in a way that follows the current best practice guidelines for recycling back into new materials, should be credited on an individual basis for the work they have delivered.
We should embrace the opportunity to build in some reward-based, pull-through drivers that encourage design innovation and forward-thinking organisations. If a company uses a lot of recycled material in its packaging products, then it should be able to offset a significant amount of its total obligated tonnage that it puts on the market.
For example, take a large UK dairy using 30,000 tonnes a year of HDPE to make bottles. If it used 20% recycled content, you might argue that it should receive 20% off its packaging obligations.
“If a company uses a lot of recycled material in its packaging products, then it should be able to offset a significant amount of its total obligated tonnage that it puts on the market.”
At recent plastic packaging recovery note prices, that could be more than £50,000 of saving in producer responsibility costs. That’s a bonus for really delivering on CE practices, creating a more stable market for recycled polymer.
If that hypothetical dairy also managed to adhere to a ‘perfect’ bottle design, it should get further financial credit for following good design practice.
This means that the material arriving at the recycler’s plant is able to be turned into a high-value and high-quality secondary raw material without a loss in yield from undesirable packaging. Such numbers are likely to make an organisation take notice.
If more big brands adhere to better packaging design, it will result in a better yield of material for recycling and move in the right direction. Better yields and more demand is a real market-driven way of creating increased value around the organisation that is creating a final quality product – the recycled polymer producer.
More demand should keep quality materials in the UK and better quality recyclate keeps UK recyclers in business. This becomes a ‘virtuous circle’ of local resources bringing jobs, value and economic benefit for the UK.
Keith Freegard is director of Axion Consulting