50% recycling and beyond: challenges and opportunities

Written by: Dan Cooke | Published:

To achieve real progress beyond 50% recycling rates the waste management and recycling industry needs closer collaboration and recognition of shared cross-sector goals and challenges, along with a shared risk and responsibility from producers, packagers, retails, recyclers and reprocessors, according to Viridor’s director of regulatory affairs Dan Cooke.

While the industry is seeing positive progress through cross sector initiatives, it is still early days and finding new ways of working will be complex, especially without clearer policy, regulation or economic drivers.

Positive news is that some of the drivers from higher levels of recycling, recovery and sources efficiency are clearly in place.

A growing population and economy uses more materials and drives a need for ways of keeping them within the economic cycle.

A continued focus on corporate social responsibility and increasingly on greater ‘circularity’ within leading businesses and organisations, as well as the wider economy, and higher levels of scrutiny and engagement from customers via social media creates a need to demonstrate progress in better recycling and more sustainable corporate behaviours. The current strong and growing focus on single use plastics shows this.

This, along with rising disposal costs, create market opportunities aligned with growing customer expectations on the recycling and waste sector to deliver consistent, cost-effective and convenient recycling-led services.

We’re doing our best to meet this demand and to broaden the range and quality of services as we progress. Markets are however, still immature.

This is backed up by (in theory) smarter regulation, including potential new regulations such as the Circular Economy Package, and higher BS & ISO standards that businesses and organisations are adopting across the supply chain. Opportunities for resource efficiency "to be baked" in to the industrial strategy are vital for progress and prosperity.

This must be backed up by the UK government’s commitment to ensuring the highest environmental standards post-Brexit. There may be a positive opportunity to review and re-align targets to meet the needs of the UK's economy, society and the environment.

The industry is at a crossroads when it comes to recycling technology and infrastructure.

Last year, for the first time in over a decade, we saw no new public procurement of, and only limited private investment in, new recycling infrastructure – a sobering indicator.

The technology being deployed in current operational recycling, sorting or processing facilities largely hasn’t kept pace with the ever-changing requirements of input materials (however they are collected).

There is no “magic mechanism” to efficiently collect and recover post-consumer materials in increasing volumes and the real challenge, therefore, is to bring forward business cases for research and development and innovative new technologies, such as advanced robotics.

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