Richard Kirkman, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Veolia UK and Ireland gives his thoughts on the need to build a truly sustainable plastic circular economy.
Over five million tonnes of plastic a year and only 29% recovered or recycled. This is the scale of today’s 3.6 million tonne environmental impact and a massive missed opportunity for the UK. Only by changing the attitude to disposal, collection and reuse will we realise the financial and environmental benefits which are potentially worth over £43.7billion* to the global recycling industry over the next few years.
Fuelled by the numerous headlines, the public have already made a step change in attitude and demand has risen. According to the latest YouGov research, 89% of people believe packaging should change, and expect that over 50% of a plastic bottle should be made from recycled content. But much of the packaging which finds its way into our homes is difficult to recycle due to the complexity of its design, and many plastics that are actually easy to recycle are not even collected – we only currently recycle half the plastic bottles we use in the UK.
This new plastic awareness is now rapidly prompting consumers and industries alike to rethink its use and realise the economic value of this important commodity. From packaging to the car industry there is now a firm commitment to increase the use of recycled material – a fact highlighted by the growing number of manufacturers using the output of our specialist facilities, such as our Dagenham plant, that recycle HDPE, PET, and PP materials.
We believe now is the time to give plastics lifetime management and to achieve this manufacturers need to be incentivised to use recycled material in new products. Through greater collaboration we can ensure sustainability throughout the entire supply chain so that designers, manufacturers and processors produce items that are easier to recycle.
It’s true that plastic recycling was impacted with the fall in oil prices, but there is a recovery happening with a market growth of around 7% this year*. Now big brands are coming back with a vengeance to get hold of this material because there’s a limited amount on the market. And when manufacturers want specific recycled materials we can go out and get it, and deliver the high quality materials they want for their production lines
As our customers make step changes in their manufacturing processes this demand is sustained. It will also expand as innovation develops new uses for complex materials and other uses such as vehicle fuel.
Today the real priority is lessening the environmental impact by harnessing the potential from the material not recovered and recycled. Supported by the demand and this growing global awareness we now have the imperative and the ability to build a truly sustainable plastic circular economy.
For more information on how Veolia can help you can download our ‘Plan for Plastics – The Circular Solution Report’ at www.veolia.co.uk.
*Transparency Market Research 2018, a Global Plastic Recycling Market: Snapshot
According to the report, the global plastic recycling market will rise from a valuation of £24.25 bn in 2015 to a revenue opportunity of £43.74 bn by 2024.