The whitepaper begins with some background to the current recycling landscape in the UK – and addresses some of the challenges and trends.
One such challenge includes the fact that an effective ‘postcode lottery’ means that wildly different recycling practises from one local authority to another can lead to confusion and much recyclable material sent to landfill unnecessarily.
The subject of the ‘waste exports’ is also addressed – including the worrying lack of accountability for how this waste is disposed of, and the fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find export destinations which will accept it. This has served to highlight the shortcomings in the UK’s domestic recycling processes and infrastructure. Something the EPR consultation does not address.
Mixed materials, such as paper-based laminated packaging, are a notable target of the EPR legislation, due to perceived challenges with separating the materials during the recycling process. Nevertheless, laminated paperboard materials play an incredibly important role as an alternative to plastic – and efforts to discourage its use could end up driving people to plastic alternatives – or to paper-based options which lack the necessary preservative qualities and the emptiability – both of which are shortcomings that could lead to increased food waste.
Food waste is a major (if often overlooked) driver of climate change and poorly thought-through legislation could risk exacerbating the problem.
The whitepaper also highlights the fact that at the Stainland recycling plant in Halifax, West Yorkshire, a TESSA pulper, financed by ACE UK and run by Sonoco, is recycling laminated paperboard products such as Pringles tubes and beverage containers from all over the country. Though it is the only plant of its kind in the UK, it is under-used, with many local authorities not accepting beverage cartons and only one UK council (Aberdeen) collecting paperboard containers with metal ends (such as Pringles tubes).
With more consistency in local authority collection criteria – this facility could recycle a lot more than it does currently.
Sonoco’s approach: destination “all paper”
Sonoco’s rigid paperboard containers (RPCs) offer all the food preservation advantages of plastic, as well as being far more lightweight than tin or glass. They are being used for an ever-greater variety of food products and are undergoing constant improvement to the design to reduce environmental impact still further. Research and trials to try to increase the fibre-based content and to reduce the ecological footprint of the packaging, are ongoing.
Sonoco prides itself on being a responsible producer and welcomes the fact that the UK Government is looking to drive positive environmental change in this area. But as this whitepaper will show, though the EPR proposal rightly highlights the responsibility of producers to do their part, and to make recycling and waste disposal as straight-forward as possible, consumers, retailers and legislators also all have responsibilities to implement a functioning circular economy which minimises the environmental footprint. Individuals must still take responsibility for their own actions. Better enforcement of littering laws and harsher penalties – alongside more consistent waste collection policies, development of recycling infrastructure and more intelligent use of the recycling infrastructure we have already, all need to be considered alongside the suggestions of the EPR consultation.
Extended Producer responsibility
Producers have a huge responsibility to adopt and maintain sustainable practices.
This is a responsibility Sonoco takes extremely seriously. Any legislation in this area though, needs to take a holistic view of what it means to be a responsible producer, rather than a narrow focus on material types.
It also needs to be wary of unintended consequences and must recognise that truly sustainable long-term solutions to our waste and recycling challenges require collaboration across the supply chain, from producers to brand owners and retailers, to consumers and trade bodies, and to Government and local authorities. By singling out producers alone, the EPR legislation risks missing an opportunity to improve waste disposal and recycling practices more broadly.
In this whitepaper, Sonoco looks at what it really means to be a responsible producer and examines ways in which the UK could improve its packaging recycling rates that go far beyond the scope of the EPR consultation.
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