By Accounting for Energy – (3 min read)
If you’ve been reading the news lately, you’ll be aware that over the last year, plastics have fallen from golden child status to enfant terrible. First came the effects of China’s National Sword, which effectively banned foreign post-commercial plastics from export to China. Following this, the BBC’s Blue Planet has fuelled outrage from members of the public and ignited a campaign to eliminate single use plastics and reduce plastic packaging.
Plastics as waste are certainly a challenge if they are not recycled. Of those plastics already created, 79 per cent are still on the planet and, in overseas markets where there is no infrastructure to recycle end of life products, many communities are swamped with waste bottles, packaging and bags.
In theory, the majority of businesses, including waste management firms, retailers and packaging producers, have supported the calls to tackle the plastics conundrum – whether through genuine agreement or a fear of the backlash that could accompany an adverse stand. Reforms to producer responsibility in the UK are under debate but, in the meantime, the new Circular Economy Package and voluntary agreements are setting targets.
The Circular Economy Package requires producers to meet the full cost of recycling end of life products, and includes mandatory producer responsibility schemes for packaging. This would mean a substantial change for the UK, and a great deal of work to assess the real cost of collection and recycling.
At the same time, many retailers and manufacturers, including Britvic, Pepsico and Unilever have signed up to the UK Plastic Pact. The voluntary agreement, which is managed by WRAP, sets challenging targets, which include:
- All plastic packaging will be compostable, reusable or recyclable.
- 70% will be effectively recycled or composted.
- Retailers will take actions to eliminate unnecessarily problematic single use packaging items, through redesign, innovation, or alternative (reuse) delivery models.
- All plastic packaging will contain 30% average recycled content.
Fears that material previously bound for recycling in China will be diverted into energy from waste are largely unfounded – energy from waste capacity is carefully considered before building commences, and our current capacity was established in line with expected waste volumes, pre-National Sword. For contractors – and local authorities – the situation is highly disruptive and may have a negative impact on finances.
However, timing is everything and, although National Sword has proven a challenge for the waste industry, it is also an important cog in the wheel that will, hopefully, lead to more regulated systems that protect recycling workers – at home or abroad – as well as improving packaging design, and encouraging greater support from all sectors of the supply chain.
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