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Trading recyclable material as a commodity

Date: 5/09/2014 | Author: Paul Sanderson

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Today, we look at trading recyclable material as a commodity:

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The issue of improving the quality of recyclable materials has been a hot topic for probably a decade now.

As the UK got better at collecting more and more material for recycling, one of the consequences of this was that complaints started to arise that the quality of the material was suffering as a result.

One of the key complaints was that the collection method of commingling, where a number of dry mixed recyclables are combined together in one bag, bin or container, was leading to this poor quality.

But this quality issue is set to get supercharged.

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Firstly, the European Union has proposed that 80 per cent of packaging and 70 per cent of municipal waste will need to be recycled by 2030. This is part of the European Union’s drive towards developing a circular economy, that will require high quality materials to ensure it continues to move throughout the supply chain so that the waste material can once again become a product.

Clearly, to meet these targets (if they come to pass) will mean much greater collection of material in terms of volume for recycling, and this increase will need to see it accompanied by high quality materials collected to ensure a competitive market.

Secondly, collection of quality materials has been important since 2008 when the revised Waste Framework Directive from the European Union required separate (or source segregated) collection of paper, plastic, metal and glass where technically, environmentally and economically practicable (known as TEEP),

While Scotland and Wales have already introduced policy to meet this requirement, from 1 January 2015, it will be a requirement in English local authorities to collect these materials separately where technically, environmentally and economically practicable to provide high quality recyclates.

Although Defra has never quantified whether existing commingled collections where the paper, plastics, metal and glass are separated at a materials recycling facility will meet the TEEP requirement, it is clear the presumption has to be that separate is preferable and local authorities will be left to face any legal challenges that result from not providing high quality recyclate from commingled collections.

But another way of looking at the quality issue is that it shouldn’t just be about meeting regulation, but being the right thing to do, to provide those who want the material with a product they can use to create a new product (or even better reuse it).

DS Smith has been keen to emphasise why it seeks high quality material.

Marketing director Tim Price says that quality has not suddenly become important to the recycling industry, but has always been there, especially if you want to generate the best value for the material.

He adds: “The DS Smith recycling division supplies material into the wider group manufacturing activities, making cardboard boxes for the packaging of goods. It is essential, as in any other manufacturing activity that uses materials, to supply a consistently high quality source of material to ensure the best quality product can be made.

“This can only be achieved by having good quality input material – you can’t magic high quality out of poor quality material – and to obtain this you need to collect materials through a source segregated system.

“Quality remains integral to the business that aims to capture the maximum amount of high quality material. Manufacturers don’t accept contamination levels or inconsistencies of supply. They go elsewhere if this happens. “Reprocessors have been accepting contamination levels of 8-10 per cent for the materials they receive. This is unacceptable in any other industry, so why is it acceptable in the recycling sector?”

DS Smith provides paper and cardboard that is processed into packaging for brands including the likes of Unilever and P&G and Tim Price adds that these brands demand high quality packaging, and without the highest quality input, this would not be possible.

“The way we see the circular economy working is that each part of the supply cycle ‘rents’ the material for a short period of time before handing onto the next section in the cycle, in a continuous loop,” he says. “Maintaining the best quality of materials throughout the process means everyone benefits for as long as possible.”

Clearly, while quality has been an important issue for a number of years, the ideas of the circular economy and resource efficiency are making regulators, legislators, and businesses want a higher quality secondary resource, rather than a reconstituted waste.

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