The prospect of transforming the plastics system in the UK was at the centre of discussions yesterday (September 12) at the Biffa breakfast meeting.
Jeff Rhodes, head of environment & external affairs at Biffa, was joined on the panel by Simon Ellin of the Recycling Association and Nick Brown , head of sustainability at Coca-Cola European Partners.
Mr Rhodes began the discussion by explaining that “the spotlight has very much shifted to the upstream end of waste production and producers, which I would say is long overdue really”.
He continued to explain that policy to ignite long-term sustainable behavioural change is needed, and stated that some measures so far “have been short term PR exercises”.
When commenting on some of the policies which he thought were effective, Mr Rhodes said:
“The plastic bag tax showed how behaviour can be changed. The 5p charge was small but made a major difference. We have also seen pledges from a range of supermarkets and even car manufacturers have pledged to use more recycled products, so this is good news.
“From a Biffa perspective, we have a UK-first plastic recycling and reprocessing plant in Redcar, which is a brilliant example of a full supply chain and eco design model which can be applied elsewhere hopefully.”
A potential Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) was also discussed at the meeting, and the impact this could have on local authorities.
Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association, explained that while it can have its uses, the industry should be careful about where it is rolled out.
“We have to be very careful with a DRS, I don’t quite get the system. Dare I say it may be a system introduced for a quick win,” he stated.
“What will the impact be If we have a DRS on all beverage containers. We do it Ok for plastics at the moment, with our kerbside collections. With the caveat that we need to do a lot better, currently plastic bottles in bales is around 75%. Some cans are nearer the 90% rate. Why would we want a DRS for beverage receptacles?”
He concluded that where it could be effective is for on-the-go material, which accounts for around 15% of all plastic bottles. If added to the 75% of bottles collected in Wales, according to Mr Ellin, this would bring the overall rate closer to 90%.
“A DRS has its usage, but it should collect certain material, not hinder cash-strapped Local authorities with the lower quality plastic to collect,” he added.
Nick Brown concluded the discussion by also explaining that alongside more joined up thinking, a different media message is needed, and is actually beginning to surface.
“We are in a position where people are more concerned about marine plastic pollution than they are about pretty much any other environmental issue,” he explained.
Mr Brown added: “I think it has a lot to do with media organisations and how they are telling the story, this has never really been done in the same way with other issues, such as deforestation. Another thing is that it pulls together a lot of issues, there is a perception that big businesses are over packaging things, and confusion over recycling and all these things get linked together to make this a really important issue for consumers.”
From the perspective of his employers, Mr Brown explained that Coca-Cola remains the only company to have a “bottle to bottle” plant in the UK, stating that this highlights the need for “joined up public policy to ensure everyone is doing the same thing”.