Poor material is biggest threat to recycling, says 59% of recycling industry professionals


A survey of UK recycling industry experts has revealed that 59 per cent of respondents considered poor material quality to represent the biggest threat to the sector.

34 per cent of respondents said that legislative ambiguity represented the biggest threat to maintaining current recycling activities.


By contrast just two per cent were worried about global competition and even fewer considered illegal trading to be a threat.

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These were the responses to a question posed by The Recycling Association at its Quality First Recycling Conference, held on Wednesday 5th April 2017 in London. More than 100 delegates, from all areas of the recycling supply chain, were asked what posed the biggest threat to the UK’s recycling industry and the results were conclusive with poor material quality the first choice for more than half of respondents.

The Recycling Association chief executive Simon Ellin said:  “The UK’s recycling sector faces many challenges just to maintain the status quo, but frequently the emphasis is placed on global competition and how that impacts the market.

“The fact is that if we produce poor quality material, global competition is insignificant. Unless our quality is a match for that produced elsewhere, we might just as well shut up shop.

“Quality has been talked about for decades now – but little has changed. I’m glad that most of our delegates recognise the seriousness of the situation. We now need to take that understanding and effect change, which was what the whole conference was about.”

The Quality First Recycling Conference focused on four key areas where there is an opportunity to make changes that will improve quality and ensure the UK remains globally competitive. It highlighted:


  1. The need for a full supply chain approach whereby local authorities, recycling and waste management companies, products designers and brands, retailers, exporters and material purchasers work together rather than in silos, taking responsibility for their collective impacts on material quality.
  2. The need to address differences in quality expectations in various markets.
  3. The difficulty that some are experiencing working under an ambiguous regulatory landscape – and the consequences of non-compliance.
  4. The progressive work of large brands such as Marks and Spencer and Coca Cola.

But the conference was as much about impassioning the industry to do things differently and drive change as it was about providing answers.


The Recycling Association chair Adrian Jackson said: “This conference is one of the first milestones on our journey to kick start change. The presentations were meant to fuel debate and unearth opinions that will inspire new behaviours.

“There were many divergent opinions and suggestions and under this campaign we will now assess those and develop a strategy to see where we can drive changes most effectively.”

The Recycling Association’s Quality First committee will now meet and prepare a full report on how it proposes the UK recycling supply chain should tackle quality. The report will be published in July 2017.


“By pulling together, and getting more support along the way, we are confident that we will drive change,” said Adrian.


Comments and suggestions resulting from the conference include the following:


“Big brands need to be better at sustainability PR [so that people can better understand why they should make different choices]”

“We should take an FSC principle and apply it to other materials [such as plastic] to make it become more sustainable [as was done with paper]”

“We’ve told our supply chain they have to be circular or we won’t use them” – Marks & Spencer

“We need a Czar to get recycling back on track in the UK”

“We hope future policy moves away from a weight-based recycling target”

“Cutting communications budgets has had an adverse effect on recycling quality”

“We should be working towards a single material packaging legislation”

“Let’s have some scary advertising so that people really understand the impacts of not doing the right thing”