OPINION: Packaging commentator Tony Hancock, from the Dumfriesshire-based ‘Independent Packaging, Environment and Safety Forum, gives his thoughts on the OPRL’s – On-Pack Recycling Label Ltd – plans for a review of labelling rules.
The news that OPRL is to review its labelling rules is most welcome, particularly if the result is that the current labelling system is phased out.
Since the introduction of the current system little has been achieved with a view to aiding recycling in the UK, this is because the current labelling system relates in the main to available ‘collection’ systems and not the recyclability of packaging.
NOT YET RECYCLED -Appears to be based upon the Local Authorities ability to collect a particular packaging material, giving the consumer the impression that the packaging item is not recyclable.
CHECK LOCALLY- Is it realistic to expect a consumer to contact their Local Authority to check if a particular packaging item is recyclable? Bearing in mind that LA’s are ‘collectors’ NOT recyclers!
WIDELY RECYCLED – This is often grossly misleading e.g. in the case of glass packaging which is almost always labelled ‘widely recycled’. However , particularly with co-mingled collections the collected glass is only suitable for landfill in disguise (also called aggregate) plus the glass industry has a big problem in recycling mixed cullet as there is a restricted ‘end user market’ for coloured glass in the UK.
The label that has always been missing from the OPRL system is WIDELY EXPORTED FOR RECYCLING. Although would not be required if we are able recycle UK packaging waste within the UK as seemingly indicated by the recent consultations – but we are not holding our breath!
The current system is fundamentally flawed and has simply been a flag waving exercise for the retail market.
What of the future, there is absolutely no point in introducing a ‘recycling’ labelling system until the Government compels Local Authorities to reduce the current 40 collection systems to a single consistent system.
It should also be pointed out that on May 18th 2018 amendments were made with respect to Directive 94/62/EC on Packaging and Packaging Waste which clearly state the responsibilities relating to packaging that is placed on the market – as follows:
Packaging SHALL be designed, produced and commercialized in such a way as to permit it’s reuse or recovery, including RECYCLING, in line with the waste hierarchy, and to minimise its impact on the environment when packaging waste or residues from packaging waste management operations are disposed of i.e. design for recycling is not a matter of choice but a legal requirement.
This area of the PWD is dealt with under the UK’s Essential Requirements Regulations, which should be enforced by Trading Standards Officers who are under the control of local authorities. Maybe enforcement of the regulations would contribute to improving recycling far more effectively than any labelling system?
With regards to plastics packaging how will the OPRL system deal with the emerging technology of ‘Chemical Recycling’? a process which is able to recycle all and any plastics packaging?
It speaks volumes that the steering group chosen by OPRL to discuss the ‘new’ labelling system lacks representation from all sections of the material reprocessors (recyclers) market section.
It would also be helpful if users of the OPRL system were policed by OPRL to ensure that the labels are correct.
Authors: Tony Hancock and Henry Emblem – The Independent Packaging Environment and Safety Forum
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