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Recycling Association calls for assurances over continuity of recycling collections

Councils must maintain recycling services to ensure sufficient availability of material for food and medical supply packaging, says the Recycling Association.

The association’s Chief Executive, Simon Ellin, wrote to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on Monday (23 March) asking it to ensure household recycling collections are maintained during the coronavirus outbreak.

The letter states that some members of the Association, many of which supply recycled materials to manufacturers, have ramped up production of cardboard boxes, toilet rolls, glass medicine bottles and other essential products to meet demand.

Cardboard packagingWhile acknowledging that things were “very difficult” for councils at the moment, he urged them to continue to collect materials such as glass and cardboard to meet the strong demand from glass and cardboard packaging manufacturers to make items such as medicine bottles and protective cardboard packages. These materials have been harder to come by due to the closure of non-essential businesses, and so are more reliant on household collections.

In the letter, Ellin said: "Many retailers and restaurants have rightly closed their doors with the exception of essential ones such as supermarkets and pharmacies. These are seeing unprecedented demand for food and medical supplies. However, with other shops closed, high-quality retail cardboard, paper, glass, metal cans and plastics packaging are now not there to collect. Instead, with more home deliveries from supermarkets and the likes of Amazon, more material is likely to be generated by the household.”

Ellin added: "I know there is great pressure on resources at the moment, but local authorities must maintain standards to ensure we receive decent quality material. They should also keep collecting material to be recycled.”

The waste and recycling sector has been classed as an ‘essential industry’ during the coronavirus outbreak to ensure that its workers can continue to perform waste services. However, in a statement to the public released by waste management organisation the Environmental Services Association (ESA) yesterday (25 March), the prospect of reduced recycling services was raised, and some councils have already announced that they will be suspending their recycling services to focus on general waste and food waste.

Ellin added: “Across all materials, it is essential that councils keep collecting especially with commercial collections from many shops and restaurants not possible now they have closed.”

Ellin also raised the prospect of storing recycling if the outbreak affected quality issues, calling for lighter touch regulation in order to do so, and ensuring Defra kept export routes open so that material could reach manufacturers abroad to make essential goods. He said: “Additionally, I have asked Defra to keep export markets open as the essential goods we need don't necessarily come from here in the UK. We therefore have to supply world markets so that they can send their goods back to us.

"Markets for recycled materials may become harder to access over the coming weeks and months, and there is a possibility we may need to store material, especially if quality standards drop and international markets look elsewhere. I have asked Defra to consider lighter touch regulation and business rate relief on storage if this comes to pass. But if we keep recycling collections going and keep quality standards high, hopefully we won't get to this point."

The need to maintain the supply of cardboard packaging in particular has been similarly in Europe, with the Confederation of European Paper Industries (Cepi), stating that “fibre-based packaging is also essential to transport and deliver all types of food and pharmaceutical supplies such as medicines in protective packaging”, and calling for “local communities to help us serving them, by ensuring that the collection of paper and board continues smoothly during the crisis”.

The Chair of the European Paper Recycling Council (EPRC), Angelika Christ, echoed this sentiment, and called for the continued separate collection of paper and card, saying: "In these critical times, it is more than ever important to keep the supply for our industry running, in order to secure packaging for essential products”.

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