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Association warns UK reprocessors must address quality or risk buyers looking elsewhere

More and more major consumers of recycled material will look elsewhere for their supplies if UK collectors and processors do not address the issue of quality in their exported product, the Recycling Association has warned.

As the range of choices increase for importers of recycled material all over the world, large consumers like China are beginning to find other markets to source their products, putting the UK industry at further risk.

In response, the Recycling Association, a network of over 80 independent waste and recycling operators, has launched its ‘Quality First’ campaign to raise awareness of the need for the UK to improve the quality of its recyclate or face the possibility of declining markets for its materials.

The campaign was launched at this week’s RWM conference, and just weeks after it was reported that the amount of kerbside recycling being rejected every year has increased by 84 per cent. Contamination of recycled materials is a serious issue and has in part led to the government commissioning the Waste and Resources Action Programme to develop a consistency framework to make the process easier for the public and reduce the likelihood of contamination (launched at RWM yesterday).

But Recycling Association Chief Executive Simon Ellin says that enabling residents to make better decisions about their recycling is just the start, and that the whole supply chain should now take responsibility and try to communicate the need for better quality. He said: "There is a risk to the UK recycling industry if the quality of materials collected for recycling does not improve, or gets worse.

"We are increasingly seeing that Chinese buyers, other export destinations and even UK mills are choosy about where they buy material. They have choices that they did not have before and for the Chinese this includes their increasingly developing domestic market.

Educating the supply chain

Through the Quality First project the Recycling Association will campaign to eliminate the deliberate trade of sub-standard and illegal-quality materials for reprocessing, while raising awareness of the importance of material quality. It says it will also aim to educate the supply chain on its part in improving material quality and act as a facilitator, working with regulators worldwide to improve quality.

quality first recycling
The campaign has been backed by a number of major exported of recyclable material including CAN Europe, Cyclelink and Mark Lyndon Paper Enterprises, as well as Chinese inspection agency CCIC London.

Over the coming months, the Recycling Association will be meeting with key stakeholders including regulators, communicating successful examples of companies that have raised material quality, and developing ways for people to discuss how material quality can be improved.

Elin continued: "In the UK, it is essential that we improve the quality of materials we collect for recycling and everyone in the supply chain must take responsibility for that. This includes local authorities, retailers, recycling companies, waste management companies, exporters and even shipping lines as all of these have a legal responsibility to ensure material sent for export meets quality criteria.

"If we don't improve quality, then there is a risk that we will start to see the UK at the bottom of the queue when it comes to purchasing decisions both in the export market and from UK buyers too."

Paper standards

Another part of the campaign will focus on the standard of recycled paper, with the association lobbying for the acceptance of a 1.5 per cent maximum out throw standard for paper (as accepted in China and throughout Europe) across the UK, with other material standards to follow. Elin says that such a standard would put export quality in "black and white" compared to current unclear regulations, which hold a theoretical standard of zero per cent contamination.

Recycling Association president Adrian Jackson added: "Quality First has been developed by the Recycling Association board and one of our tasks will be to act as a hub and facilitator to work with regulators and other stakeholders to ensure UK material is always regarded as the highest quality.

"From a paper recycling perspective, we want to promote understanding of and lobby for acceptance of a 1.5 per cent maximum out throw for paper, and then seek to develop other material standards.

"We look forward to working with everyone in the supply chain to find the solutions to ensure we meet our goal of improving quality, and we would be happy to work with companies and organisations that share our ambitions to improve material quality."

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