We must build momentum beyond plastics

6th August 2019 Posted by

Dr Adam Read, External Affairs Director, SUEZ reccyling and recovery UK

Posted by Dr Adam Read.

Firstly I promise to keep this short, as I am about to head off on a family holiday, and secondly events over the last few weeks have left me in a reflective mood.

About this time last year I wrote a piece for RWW named clutching at straws, where I was surprised by the level of anti-plastic feeling at bars and restaurants around in Pathos, Cyprus which on reflection was a good thing.

But it also got me thinking about whether as a society we were really focusing on the biggest issues of the day, namely ensuring Extended Producer Responsibility is designed correctly and is able to actively encourage designers to think about reuse and recycling when creating new packaging.

I also commented at the time that consumers were at the heart of the debate and needed to be on the front foot when it comes to new solutions and approaches, and I am glad that the last few months has not been a disappointment on this front.

Twelve months is a long time in politics, but there has been plenty of steady progress on plastics, packaging, and wider consumer engagement and behaviour change. This is great news because too many knee-jerk reactions will deliver many unintended consequences which could set us back in our thrust towards net zero carbon, green growth and ultimate closed-loop systems.

Plastics Pact has been successful in getting the supply chain to agree on priority plastics to take off the market and confirm their public support for recyclability and recycled content targets.

OPRL has continued to engage with brands and the public on labelling of packaging to make it even easier for them to get it right once they have consumed the product, and the government’s Resources & Waste Strategy and subsequent consultations has clearly outlined a new path in terms of extended producer responsibility, recycled content in plastic packaging, consistent collections, and a possible deposit return scheme (DRS).

So the future for plastics management looks good and we must look forward with high hopes and equally high expectations. But we cannot allow the government to take their foot of the pedal, we must not allow big brands to reduce their efforts, and we must all continue to demand change (in a managed and planned way) from the rest of the value chain – we are all in it together.

The only constant is change

But a week can be a very long time in politics as we now have a new Prime Minister, one who 12 months ago was on his way towards the margins of UK politics in reaction to the May’s plans for Brexit and who on the face of it will not be meddling in environment issues going forward.

We also have a new Secretary of State for the Environment Theresa Villiers while Therese Coffey has been promoted to Minister of State and Zac Goldsmith is now under-secretary of state. So what can we expect from them?

This was one of the first questions I was asked at a BBC Countryfile Live event at Blenheim Palace, and it seems that it isn’t only those of us working in the waste and resources sector with concerns over the departure of Michael Gove as Secretary of State.

Interestingly, the audience were also keen to discuss all things plastics but were ready to move on from straws and stirrer debates to tackle the more fundamental issues of UK reprocessing capacity, consistent collections and on-pack labelling. So the outlook feels good to me in terms of public engagement and support.

As for the new ministerial team at Defra, I really hope they continue the path the department so clearly set out this past year, building towards the next phase of consultations at Christmas or early in 2020 on EPR, DRS and consistency.

Now is not the time to reflect and government must push on and believe in all the hard work completed to date, enabling the civil service to move the discussions on at the rate of change we all so desperately want and need. The industry and the value chain are here and are more than willing to help, so I personally look forward to working with the new ministerial team after the summer recess, and Theresa Villiers our door is always open.

But let’s take a break

So that’s about it from me, short but sweet as I promised at the outset. I am wrapping-up any number of loose ends before heading off to Majorca, so no more time for reflection or future-forecasting- at least not for a couple of weeks or so.

I don’t plan on checking out the plastic straw and stirrer situation in too many of the bars and restaurants in Palma, but like all good chartered waste managers I will be on the look-out for some pictures of recycling bins to share with you all on social media.

While the new ministerial team settle in at Defra and the civil servants reflect on the exceptionally high level and detail of consultation responses, we should enjoy a few weeks of rest and recovery, whether that be at home or abroad, and come back refreshed in September.

By then we might know a bit more about whether the direction of travel is likely to change and what new issues we may have to face. Thankfully it won’t be straws and I expect we will be looking more closely at composite packaging, flexible packaging, consumer engagement, reprocessing capacity and just what transition period will be needed for the proposed new EPR system to come into effect.

This sounds like a perfect Autumn. I look forward to debating these issues, and plenty others, in the coming months. But in the meantime, enjoy the summer.

This blog was originally published on on 05 August 2019.

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