Quality, demand and investment needed to stimulate UK’s recycling future

29th November 2017 | Recycling

Commitment from corporate brands to use recycled materials, an upswing in quality and investment in infrastructure are key factors needed for the successful future of the UK’s recycling industry. These were the comments from a collection of high-level speakers at “Recycling the Unrecyclable”, a seminar dedicated to the changing recycling landscape in the UK, who said that plateauing household collection rates, China’s planned implementation of a ban on certain materials and the uncertainty of UK industry to invest because of high-level failures in recent years were all challenges that needed to be addressed for the industry to move forward but also provided opportunity.

A public understanding of the value of plastics materials would be “utopia” according to Margaret Bates, lecturer at the University of Northampton, who said a public understanding of plastics’ worth would be the prevention needed to incentivise recycling and stop littering.


She said recycled plastics should not be seen by the consumer as “second best”, but of a good enough quality that the user cannot tell the difference between recycled and virgin products and packaging. “Quality is key to how we are going to achieve any circularity,” Bates explained. “Brands have to be able to replace virgin materials without the user noticing.

She highlighted optimising material flows and waste management systems that retain quality and value as key pillars of a successful industry, as well as the importance of end-of-life considerations in product design. Ultimately, she said that long-term recycling goals were needed before people had the confidence to invest in infrastructure.

Commenting on China’s new waste rules and regulations, Bernard Chase, Sector Specialist for Plastics at WRAP, said that the true impact is, as yet, unknown. He explained that should China enforce a full ban on any significant amount of plastics from the western world, then it would mean “a shift change” for the UK industry that has become so reliant on exporting its waste.

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