Ambitious recycling targets will not be met unless there is a “radical step change” to UK infrastructure that will be able to handle all types of packaging waste, according to circular economy specialist Axion.
Axion is one of a growing number of industry voices warning that simply applying challenging recycling targets without doing anything to help achieve them will not create a plastics circular economy.
The company was responding to the Government’s consultation on consistency in household and business recycling collections in England.
WRAP’s Plastics Pact also sets a target so that, by 2025, 70% of plastic packaging will be recycled or composted and 30% on average will use recycled content.
Axion head of circular economy Richard McKinlay said: “While it is good to have ambitious targets, without a shift in focus and investment in infrastructure, these targets won’t be reached.
“The aim of recycling is changing from being a profitable business in its own right to tackling the growing volumes of waste and a desire to recycle. Through extended producer responsibility, the economic landscape will change and so must the infrastructure.”
McKinlay said a “full reform” of infrastructure was needed so that it can tackle all types of packaging waste, including pots, tubs and trays (PTT) as well as plastic film.
He said: “In the UK, we are using the existing infrastructure which was designed around the economics of recycling. In Belgium, they have taken a decision that their existing facilities are no longer fit for purpose and have invested in multiple new plants to recycle plastic packaging.
”This radical step change is likely the only way to achieve our targets.”
He also argued that the focus should be on consistent collection of quality materials, particularly with Far East markets closing their doors to mixed plastic waste, and plants must be capable of sorting all packaging formats collected from kerbsides to achieve the volumes needed to justify the investment.
He added: “In addition to consistency in collections, a consistent process design for sorting plants should also be considered. This would entail all facilities being built to a basic, common specification and using certain processes to achieve a standard specification of output, or, preferably, better.”
He said that consumers were being “bombarded” with new bespoke collection scheme options, which may work well for businesses but were not always suitable for consumers, making them less likely to participate: “We need to recycle at the kerbside and keep it simple to avoid confusion.
“Consumers will become fatigued with the ever-growing list of bespoke collection schemes for niche products, which collect minimal tonnage in an inefficient manner. Instead the focus should be on enabling the collection of all packaging at the kerbside, ensuring as much as possible is designed for recycling, and sorting this into fractions which can be recycled.”
Rather than focusing on the different types of packaging, the message to consumers should be that packaging needs to be empty, not stacked, not contaminated and crushed, which would result in higher volumes of better quality material.
Last week, DS Smith warned that the UK was on target to miss recycling targets due to sky-rocketing packaging waste and chronic underinvestment in waste infrastructure.