Let’s hope Simpler Recycling does not become party political
Paul Sanderson, chief executive of The Recycling Association, weighs in on whether Simpler Recycling has met the industry’s expectations.
From The Recycling Association’s point of view, it feels like Simpler Recycling is 80 per cent to 90 per cent there with the remainder not quite working for us.
But talking to other stakeholders, it seems like they feel the same – except the bit that isn’t quite right for them is a bit different to ours.
In many ways, that suggests that Simpler Recycling broadly works for everyone. In achieving its aim of making recycling simpler and easier to understand, it probably does the job.
Are we going to get an almost perfect recycling system? Probably not, but it will be better than what we have now.
When the Resources & Waste Strategy came out in 2018, we were pleased that paper and cardboard would be kept separate. Of course, we are now disappointed that it will still be commingled with contaminants such as glass especially. But wet paper can also stick to plastic bottles, glass jars and bottles and metal cans, so for all materials keeping paper and cardboard helps with quality.
Indeed, I think there was a general consensus that having paper and cardboard separate made sense unless there were exceptional circumstances where they needed to be commingled. But as we have seen in Wales, split containers that are a similar size to a single bin can be used to separate material and achieve high recycling rates.
Positives of Simpler Recycling
In terms of the positives, it will definitely be the case that people will be able to look at their packaging and know which bin to put it in. Packaging and product designers should also be influenced to design for recyclability.
We also welcome that food and beverage cartons can only be collected where local authorities have separate plastic collections to collect them with, as these are really hard to pick up by sorting technology when incorporated with paper and cardboard collections.
It is also positive that eventually households and businesses will have the same materials collected, so it doesn’t matter if you are at home or at work, you’ll know how to recycle.
Our preference would have been for simpler business and household collections to happen at the same time, but it is something we can live with.
Many of our Members will be pleased that there is some certainty and they can get on with planning for the future and investing in new infrastructure. It is a shame that it has taken five years from the publication of the Resources & Waste Strategy to get to where we are now, and so little progress has happened in that time.
Hopefully, Simpler Recycling will not become party political and whoever wins the General Election before January 2025 gets on with it, with only some tweaking to make it better.
Businesses like certainty, and if we all know where we stand, then our Members will get on with making Simpler Recycling work – as will local authorities, retailers and manufacturers.
It is really important that each part of the value chain now works together to get to a position where we increase recycling rates, while producing a high-quality material.
From the point of view of manufacturers and retailers, good product design using single materials will make Simpler Recycling work. From a local authority stance, standardised collections will help the public understand recycling better and I’d hope that when councils can have separate collections of paper and cardboard, they’ll continue to have them. While from a recycling industry point of view, we need better quality commodities that we can turn into feedstock for sustainable new products. All of us working together can achieve this.
Of course, we still need to work out how this will fit with Extended Producer Responsibility, and we retain deep concerns about Deposit Return Schemes and cherry-picking of materials.
For now, though, it feels like we have a bit more momentum behind getting to a better, and simpler, recycling system than we have now.