Poor quality packaging threatens UK recycling, RA warns

A survey of UK recycling industry experts conducted by the Recycling Association (RA) at the Quality First Recycling Conference has revealed that 59 per cent of respondents considered poor material quality to represent the biggest threat to the sector.

34 per cent of respondents said that legislative ambiguity represented the biggest threat to maintaining current recycling activities, while two per cent were worried about global competition and even fewer considered illegal trading to be a threat.

The RA also named a list of products that posed the biggest challenge for reuse. Simon Ellin, CEO of The Recycling Association cited: Pringles - "Number One recycling villain. These things are a... nightmare. Impossible to separate the parts.”; Lucozade Sport - “Number Two villain. This bottle is so confusing to computer scanners that it has to be picked by hand off the recycling conveyor. Then it often just gets chucked away.”; and cleaning spray bottles - "Labels often say the product is recyclable, but that’s only the body. The spray has two or three other polymers and a metal spring. It’s almost impossible."

Ellin also listed: Black plastic food trays - "Supermarkets think black trays make meat look redder so they colour the tray black but that makes it worthless for recycling. Also, if someone leaves the torn film on the tray, with a bloody card below it, we just have to chuck it anyway.”; and Whisky packaging - “It grieves me to say this as one who likes his whisky but whisky causes us problems. The metal bottom and top to the sleeve, the glass bottle, the metal cap... very hard for us."

The Quality First Recycling Conference highlighted: the need for a full supply chain approach whereby local authorities, recycling and waste management companies, products designers and brands, retailers, exporters and material purchasers work together rather than in silos, taking responsibility for their collective impacts on material quality; the need to address differences in quality expectations in various markets; the difficulty that some are experiencing working under an ambiguous regulatory landscape – and the consequences of non-compliance; and the progressive work of large brands such as Marks and Spencer and Coca Cola.

Speaking at the conference, Ellin said: “The UK’s recycling sector faces many challenges just to maintain the status quo, but frequently the emphasis is placed on global competition and how that impacts the market.

“The fact is that if we produce poor quality material, global competition is insignificant. Unless our quality is a match for that produced elsewhere, we might just as well shut up shop.

“Quality has been talked about for decades now – but little has changed. I’m glad that most of our delegates recognise the seriousness of the situation. We now need to take that understanding and effect change, which was what the whole conference was about."

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