Waste management - recycling is part of the solution

11th of December 2018
Waste management - recycling is part of the solution
Waste management - recycling is part of the solution

Total Recycling Services, one of the UK’s leading waste management providers, believes in the important role recycling companies play in the worldwide plastics pollution problem. ECJ spoke to operations director Andy Dobson about the effects plastics are having on the environment right across Europe and what the waste management industry is doing in the fight against pollution.

Nobody wants our seas and oceans polluted with plastics. From the giant ocean garbage patches down to the tiny particles penetrating the food chain – each news article brings home the message that there is a serious global issue that requires immediate action.

For recycling companies, each recyclable item floating in the sea is a missed opportunity and this is a problem that has been ignored for too long. The increased awareness of plastics in the environment has to be a positive. Consumers are identifying with the global issue of plastic pollution and demanding change.

Governments and campaigners are talking about incentives, initiatives, taxes and penalties to reduce non-recyclable waste and increase recycling rates. But there is no doubt huge change is required in the way individuals think about and use plastics in our day to day lives - and the recycling industry is part of that solution.

We have been reiterating for some time to our customers that quality of recyclables is a key issue. For some clean, well segregated grades there is generally a route and a market. For some other grades - less well sorted or lower grade - there are fewer options, or the rebates are much lower or nonexistent.

Rebates on plastics

Rebates on plastics are a great incentive to businesses - and when these disappear it inevitably causes the producer to question the efforts undertaken to recycle. The recycling industry is used to responding to changes in legislation and to being pulled by ever changing market demands. Customers seeking recycling providers are looking for consistent rebates and guaranteed routes which can be difficult.

China has traditionally been the ‘easy option’ for many materials and the impact of China’s National Sword program has sent a ripple around the globe. Switching to disposal as opposed to recovery clearly isn’t the option, so the world has been looking to new, alternative and emerging markets for genuine options.

Transport links, container availability and, of course, capacity all play a huge role in the ease of trading and the sustainability of some of these options hasn’t been fully explored yet. If, in the longer term, it leads to better awareness, quality and ultimately investment in the source countries, then in the longer term it may lead to more countries developing more sustainable systems at home.

Landfill figures

Some figures on plastic waste indicate that up to 25 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated by Europeans each year, which is a colossal amount. Some estimates indicate that less than 30 per cent is collected for recycling.

Figures from 2014 also indicate countries such as Austria, Germany, Belgium and some others are landfilling virtually no municipal waste – whereas others including Latvia, Croatia and Greece still landfill more than three quarters of such waste.

Investment in infrastructure, sensible taxation and incentives and support for the recycling industry is key to creating a more unified approach. We share the planet and all must take responsibility - not only on our impact where we live but with our neighbours. We need a harmonised approach.

Earlier in the year, the European Commission announced a European strategy for plastics aimed at improving design, increasing recycling rates and improving quality, with the overall aim being more sustainable consumption of plastics with a move towards a circular economy.

The EU circular economy package looks at the whole picture from design through to production and use, all with a view to reducing the overall impact of such materials.

All of that is great, but in September the Basel Convention discussed classifying some plastic wastes as a hazardous material.  Assuming the existing complex controls on exporting such materials apply, this could create a ridiculously complex market situation that surely wouldn’t benefit the environment. Logically each country should have the infrastructure to manage its own waste - but how long would this take?

As a child I had no awareness of waste or recycling. It just went away. Children these days are much more aware and that is promising. Their attitudes don’t need changing if we get this right nowand perhaps we are just a generation away from really turning the corner. We can be the generation that lays the foundations.

My knowledge came through training as an Environment Agency officer and subsequently onwards into the industry.  As a trainee officer I was astonished at how legislation stood in the way of genuine recycling options. So much has changed over the last 10 to 15 years.

Opportunities are arising all the time and the recycling industry is challenging traditional views on what is waste and bringing about changes through ‘end of waste’ criteria and the demand for
quality protocols.

New equipment
Month on month we are seeing innovation in the sector, with new equipment designed to facilitate improved recycling rates appearing regularly. People will invest and develop further and a more stable market and regularised policies will give confidence to do this.

The issue of plastics is not just an end of pipe problem and it isn’t about minimising what we use and making sure those items are segregated and arrive at effective recycling facilities.

Recycled packaging and products must be attractive to the retailer and consumer. If a consumer has the choice of the same product in recycled or new packaging from the manufacturer - will they select the recycled option? They are certainly more likely to if there is a financial incentive for selecting the recycled option over the one made of new materials.



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