What do we want to see from the next Government?

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Recently, I wrote about what the main political parties were putting in their manifestos. 

This week, I thought I’d write what I would have liked to have seen from a recycling point of view. 

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First of all, I’d have liked to have seen at least a bit more detail from each of them, even if it was confirming, amending or not confirming all of the work done on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), Simpler Recycling or Deposit Return Schemes (DRS).  

From our point of view as an Association, you’ll be aware that we support EPR and Simpler Recycling, but that is qualified support. When it comes to DRS, we are against it as we believe it will take vital revenue away from the industry, cost a fortune to set up and there are potentially alternatives like Digital Deposit Return Schemes that leave existing infrastructure in place. 

But what new ideas could we put into our manifesto that would transform the recycling sector? 

Firstly, I’d suggest that we need to get to a place of light-touch and consistent regulation. Those that do their best to abide by the rules should not be subject to sanctions and hassle for minor infringements, but those who operate illegal sites and export illegally on purpose should be targeted more heavily.  

It might be that we need to put some new regulation in place to help with light-touch regulation, but if we all know where we stand then that makes us trade more efficiently. Exporters will be aware of the idea of minimal contamination and the difficulty in defining what that means, but the Environment Agency in England seems to be applying that to stored materials too. How can you operate if you don’t know whether your material is legal or not? 

Those permit exempt sites that have been in operation for many years and never caused any environmental issues should also be able to upgrade their current status to a permit without having to go through all sorts of hoops and potentially huge investment.

Secondly, we need to recognise that there are environmental and economic benefits to exporting. Of course, we need more recycling infrastructure in the UK and we will always welcome more appropriate recycling facilities and investment here. But unless we become a major manufacturing nation again, we should be able to send recyclable commodities to other manufacturing centres – as long as they are broadly equivalent to what we have here of course.

But all too often export is demonised by lazy politicians and others who don’t recognise that valuable material would otherwise go to landfill or energy-from-waste. My fear is that proposed export bans for plastics will see more material treated this way rather than recycled.  

My final manifesto commitment would be on quality. Our President Celine Grant has said quality will be her priority over the next two years, and I totally agree with her on this. 

But we need to put to bed the commingled versus source separated debate that we were talking about 20 years ago. Things have moved on and technology has moved on. EPR and consistent collections should help reduce the amount of input contamination anyway. 

Our focus though should be on how we produce the highest quality material to a specification, and however material is collected, recognise it will need to meet that quality criteria.  

As an industry, we are going to be providing the commodities for the circular economy. Over the period the next Government is in power, The Recycling Association will be continuing to promote our Members as vital components in our circular future.