The latest news and views from the world of recycling
UNTHA UK’s managing director Chris Oldfield attended the Secondary Commodity Markets conference in London earlier this month, to hear some of the latest news and views from recycling sector professionals. Here he shares some of the key points he took away from the day…
I often attend waste and recycling events throughout the country, and, put bluntly, I’m sometimes a little sceptical as to what I’m going to come away with. Talk of the circular economy, the need for collaborative thinking and the desire for greater Government action is a common theme throughout all. And whilst I completely agree that we need to keep talking, to prompt action and encourage change, the pace with which we see progress is sometimes a little disheartening.So earlier this month when I headed to the Secondary Commodity Markets conference, organised by Resource Efficient Business founder Paul Sanderson, I didn’t know if I was going to learn anything new.
As I listened to seminars throughout the day however, I did pick up on some interesting points, worthy of sharing.
A new era of economic realism
This phrase echoes many of the conversations we’ve had with clients in recent times, certainly post-recession. It essentially surrounds the fact that decision making shouldn’t always centre upon price. Of course following a sustained period of squeezed margins, we are all mindful of securing good deals. But what does the ‘best price’ look like? A price is ‘of the moment’ but the value to stem from an investment should last much longer. We must all be mindful of this when deciding on the products and services we procure, and the relationships we develop with suppliers.
Recycling target disparities
One thing we have all discussed for quite some time is the extent to which variations in local authority practice has a tendency to hinder overall recycling industry progress. With little consistency in terms of household waste collections throughout the UK it is perhaps no wonder the public remains confused as to what they can and cannot recycle. And without a universal system, we are in many ways held back.
Following the conference I realised there is perhaps a distinct reason why we see some councils making real headway in this respect, and others lagging behind. Wales, for example, has a 70% statutory MSW recycling target to meet by 2025 – failure to succeed will result in local authorities facing significant fines per tonne. In England however, we were told that the comparable rate is only 50%. What’s more, under the Waste Framework Directive, the EU will fine the Government (UK plc) if these targets are not met, however, the consequence to local authorities is minimal other than reputational damage.
This cemented for me the fact that UK waste policy, and the policies in devolved nations does not tie up. Sooner rather than later, this surely needs addressing.
Pay as you throw
The merit of a ‘pay as you throw’ fine was also discussed, with many people agreeing that if waste was ‘metred’ like utilities, there would be more incentive for members of the public to change their behaviours. I could see this really working because I think, as individuals, we are more inclined to act responsibly if our actions are put under the spotlight and we are penalised for non-compliance. We should certainly be more accountable when it comes to waste and recycling.
As someone quite rightly pointed out, such a movement would undoubtedly be political suicide for the government that decides to introduce ‘pay as you throw’. We are therefore unlikely to see any progress in this respect, certainly in the immediate future.
The role of technological advancement
Undoubtedly my favourite idea of the day was put forward by Jason Fazackerley, solution specialist and IT strategist at Prodware. With the modern world witnessing an ever-increasing utilisation of mobile technology, he suggested the creation of an app to help people understand what to recycle. He elaborated on his brainwave, explaining that by scanning a product barcode for instance, Joe Bloggs could immediately see whether the local authority is able to recycle the material or not. They therefore know which bin to put the item in, and the element of confusion is gone.
I could really see something like this working. If local authority recycling practices are to remain so disparate, more needs to be done to communicate with the public and overcome the ambiguity that currently exists. The communication must be relevant too. Yes leaflet drops and bus adverts may engage some members of the public, but younger people are particularly more in tune with apps and social media. Councils need to capitalise on technological advancements and usage habits, for sure.
The UK can lead the way
One final thing I will take from the event, which I feel should act as a word of encouragement for all, is a point made by Herman van der Meij, managing director of Viridor. He quite rightly highlighted that the MRF Code of Practice was established following a period of industry consultation, in which waste and recycling professionals helped shape the newfound level of quality control that has subsequently been introduced. No other country has adopted this level of influence. It is therefore important to note that whilst we can sometimes feel as though our continued efforts and collaboration can ‘fall on deaf ears’, we are making much needed progress. Yes, in many respects we have a lot to learn from some of our neighbours on the continent, but in other ways, we can lead the way.