DRS consultation launch

In March, ministers launched a fresh consultation regarding the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. With the industry and campaigners still split on how the system should work, Rick Hindley, executive director at Alupro, provided the following comment:

“Aiming to tackle plastic pollution, increase recycling rates, improve recyclate quality and minimise litter, England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) is set to be rolled-out over the next few years. However, the unique market dynamics of the UK mean that simply ‘importing’ a DRS scheme from other countries is not guaranteed to deliver success. As such, adopting best practice design and taking all available insight into consideration will prove pivotal.

“In January, we released a comprehensive report, developed in partnership with independent think-tank London Economics, to analyse the implications of implementing a flat rate versus a variable rate deposit fee. The findings were clear – a flat rate DRS would result in 10% lower return rates for the first two years for all containers, plastic would further dominate the beverage packaging on supermarket shelves and the UK’s thriving aluminium industry, which employs more than 20,000 workers nationwide, would be faced with the real possibility of plant closures.

“Conversely, a variable rate fee would see the government achieve its 90% return rate target almost a year earlier, leading to a higher recycling rate and less litter on the streets – in essence, the best solution by far from an environmental and economic perspective. While there have been suggestions that a variable rate would be far too complex for shoppers, recent research disproves this view, with consumers overwhelmingly supporting higher deposits for larger containers.

“As consultations commence, it’s imperative that the government takes the valuable views of consumers and the packaging industry into close consideration when discussing introduction and implementation. Failure to do so could prove disastrous.”

 

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Brits back best practice DRS scheme design, finds YouGov research

  • New research disproves claims that a variable rate DRS would be too complex
  • 85% of respondents considered a variable rate system ‘easy to understand’
  • 61% of respondents support higher deposits for larger containers

New research released earlier today (17 March) disproves the claim that a variable rate deposit return scheme (DRS) would be too complex for consumers. The YouGov insight suggests that 85% of Brits consider a variable system easy to understand and support higher deposits for larger containers.

Commissioned by Alupro, the aluminium packaging recycling organisation, 2,000 adults across Britain were surveyed about best practice DRS design and whether a variable rate deposit fee would add unnecessary confusion.

The results firmly rebutted this view, with more than four in five respondents suggesting that the concept of a DRS was easy to grasp (84%), and that the idea of varying the deposit value based on container size was equally simplistic (85%). Just over half of adults (55%) agreed that the deposit fee should be lower for smaller items and higher for larger ones, while three in ten (30%) thought the deposit amount should be the same across all sizes of packaging. Only a small minority admitted that they were undecided (15%).

These findings contradict government research from 2019, which suggested that a variable rate would be far too complex for householders.* Public understanding of deposit return schemes has changed significantly and appreciation of best practice design has fast become a discussion point.

Rick Hindley, executive director at Alupro, commented: “Adopting best practice design from the outset will prove pivotal to the long-term success of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s deposit return scheme.

“Our independent research aimed to analyse real-world views regarding awareness of DRS design and understanding of deposit fees. According to the results, it’s safe to say that now, more than ever, householders want the best solution for the future – not the cheapest or the fastest.

“As the government discusses the design of our national scheme, we implore senior decision makers to take these findings into close consideration and not to choose simplicity over sustainability. The success of the scheme is important for every household, so we’re calling for their views to be recognised.”

Timiko Cranwell, Legal and Corporate Affairs Director at Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I, added: “Budweiser Brewing Group is committed to promoting circular packaging and responsible consumption. We believe that a variable rate deposit level is the foundation of a well-designed DRS, as it allows individuals to manage their own consumption, without incentivising the purchase of larger containers, or higher alcohol content, in the interest of saving money.”

Aiming to tackle plastic pollution, increase recycling rates, improve recyclate quality and minimise litter, England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s long-awaited DRS is expected to come into force in 2023. The scheme will see a deposit value added to the price of a beverage product in store, which will be refunded to the customer when empty packaging is returned to a designated collection point.

While a variable rate fee would see containers allocated with a deposit value based on container size, a flat rate model would apply a fixed fee to all beverage containers. This unsophisticated approach could see customers charged an additional £4.80 for a 24-can multipack (on top of product purchase price) compared to just 80p for a 2 litre plastic bottle.

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*http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&ProjectID=20253&FromSearch=Y&Publisher=1&SearchText=deposit&GridPage=2&SortString=ProjectCode&SortOrder=Asc&Paging=10#Description

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2001 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18th – 19th February 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Alupro launches free Welsh language resources for primary school pupils

Alupro, the aluminium packaging recycling organisation, has announced the roll-out of its successful education programme to primary schools across Wales. Classrooms nationwide are invited to participate in the initiative, which aims to educate students about the benefits of recycling.

The manga-themed Key Stage 2 (KS2) programme introduces pupils to heroine ‘Ally Minium’ and her warriors who together embark on a mission to defeat evil ‘Land Phil’, who is threatening to take over the planet. A fun introductory video leads to an exciting interactive lesson with pupils becoming ‘Masters of Infinity’. There’s also a fantastic competition giving pupils the chance of winning a Nintendo Switch Lite and a £250 book voucher for their school.

The education programme has a general recycling theme with a focus on the importance of aluminium packaging recycling. Designed to inspire a long-term commitment to recycling for pupils and parents alike. The free resources can be taught in the classroom or at home.

Rick Hindley, Executive Director at Alupro, commented: “We’re extremely proud to play our part in educating the next generation about the circular properties of aluminium packaging. At Alupro, we thoroughly enjoy working with pupils to increase awareness and encourage behavioural change, which they can take home to their families.”

So far, the English language version of the resources have been downloaded more than 580 times across the UK and Ireland. Rick added: “We’ve been really impressed with the competition entries to date. We’ve now launched a second competition specifically for Schools in Wales and we’re really looking forward to seeing the additional entries and the exciting adventures students create. Good luck to everyone who participates!”

For more information, or to download the educational resources, visit: https://learningaluminium.co.uk/masters-of-inifinity/.

Alupro launches new website to educate consumers about the importance of recycling

Alupro, the aluminium packaging recycling organisation, has unveiled its brand-new Recycle Aluminium website, to educate consumers about the infinitely recyclable benefits of aluminium packaging. Working to fulfil the industry’s obligation to meet recycling targets, the site is an educational hub, featuring the latest data, how-to guides, blog posts, videos, fact sheets and more.

In the UK alone, more than 12 billion items of aluminium packaging are sold every year – from beverage cans and foil trays, to cooking foil, aerosol containers, caps and closures. Harnessing the circular properties of aluminium, Alupro aims to educate consumers about the benefits of recycling.

However, while 56% of the UK’s aluminium was recycled in 2019, we still have a way to go to achieve our target of 100%. Education and information is key to further improving recycling rates and the new website aims to inspire, inform and encourage national behavioural change.

Rick Hindley, executive director at Alupro, commented: “Last year, more aluminium packaging was collected for reprocessing than ever before. At Alupro, we are striving to achieve our vision of  a recycling rate close to 100%, with information and education playing a pivotal role. Our new website will not only provide valuable information to consumers, but also encourage households to make better and more informed decisions when it comes to disposing of their valuable aluminium packaging.

“With a whole host of useful advice articles, blogs, videos and fact sheets, each explaining how, when and why we should recycle, we hope it will prove a valuable resource.”

Consumers are encouraged to view the new website here – https://recyclealuminium.org.uk/ . For more information about Alupro, visit www.alupro.org.uk.

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UK faces tidal wave of plastic if ‘poorly designed’ Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) is adopted

  • Plastic packaging would dominate supermarket shelves under flat rate DRS
  • 60% of shoppers would switch from endlessly recyclable aluminium cans to plastic bottles
  • Food and beverage waste would continue to rise unnecessarily

UK supermarket shelves could be awash with plastic packaging, replacing billions of endlessly recyclable beverage cans, if the UK adopts a flat rate deposit return scheme (DRS). That is the key finding from the Aluminium Packaging Recycling Organisation (Alupro), which has today (27 January) launched an extensive report analysing the implications of a poorly designed national scheme.

Developed in partnership with independent think-tank London Economics, alongside experts from across the UK packaging sector, the document analyses the environmental and economic implications of implementing a flat rate versus a variable rate deposit fee.

Aiming to tackle plastic pollution, increase recycling rates, improve recyclate quality and minimise litter, England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s long-awaited DRS is expected to come into force in 2023. The scheme will see a deposit value added to the price of a beverage product in store, which will be refunded to the customer when empty packaging is returned to a designated collection point.

While a variable rate fee would see containers allocated with a deposit value based on container size, a flat rate model would apply a fixed fee to all beverage containers. This unsophisticated approach could see customers charged an additional £4.80 for a 24-can multipack (on top of product purchase price) compared to just 80p for a 2 litre plastic bottle, which research suggests would result in 60% of shoppers opting for larger, cheaper, but much less sustainable plastic alternatives.

Alongside the price hikes and increase in plastic packaging, Alupro’s report uncovers a number of wider concerns posed by a flat rate model. Indeed, modelling suggests that a fixed fee model would result in 10% lower return volumes in total than a variable rate system. Conversely, a variable rate system would see the government achieve their 90% return rate almost a year earlier, leading to a higher recycling rate and less litter on the streets.

In addition, demand for aluminium cans – the world’s most widely recycled beverage container – would likely fall by c.11%, resulting in the industry being hit with an annual production shortfall of 4.7 billion units and the very real possibility of plant closures. With >75% of aluminium cans recycled every year, this would not only impact upon the UK’s national recycling rates, but also our thriving aluminium production industry.

Furthermore, with shoppers substituting convenient multipacks for cost-effective (but often impractical) large bulk containers, the UK could see a significant increase in portion sizes, or experience an immediate and unnecessary hike in product waste.

Rick Hindley, executive director at Alupro, commented: “While we are fully supportive of a well-designed DRS, research surrounding best practice design is limited. Our report aims to fill the gap and provide extensive modelling into the real-world implications of differing deposit fee options.

“While some may think that a flat rate deposit fee would be easier to implement, this isn’t necessarily the case. What’s more, it would result in a tidal wave of unnecessary plastic – a key issue that the scheme is fundamentally trying to solve. If the UK adopted a variable rate DRS, demand for plastic would drop notably. What’s more, we would see significantly higher return rates in the first two years of DRS operation and limited impact on portion size or product waste.

“Our concern is that simplicity will override sustainability in senior-level decision making. As such, we are imploring the government to take our statistics and modelling into close consideration when discussing the design of the UK’s DRS.”

Read the report summary here

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Aluminium industry faces plant closures if ‘poorly designed’ Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) is adopted

The UK’s thriving aluminium industry, which employs more than 20,000 workers nationwide, would be stung with an annual production shortfall of 4.7 billion units and the very real possibility of plant closures if the UK adopts a flat rate deposit return scheme (DRS). That’s one of the key findings from the Aluminium Packaging Recycling Organisation (Alupro), which has today launched an extensive report analysing the implications of a poorly designed national scheme.

Developed in partnership with independent think-tank London Economics, alongside experts from across the UK packaging sector, the document analyses the environmental and economic implications of implementing a flat rate versus a variable rate deposit fee.

Aiming to tackle plastic pollution, increase recycling rates, improve recyclate quality and minimise litter, England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s long-awaited DRS is expected to come into force in 2023. The scheme will see a deposit value added to the price of a beverage product in store, which will be refunded to the customer when empty packaging is returned to a designated collection point.

While a variable rate fee would see containers allocated with a deposit value based on container size, a flat rate model would apply a fixed fee to all beverage containers. This unsophisticated approach could see customers charged an additional £4.80 for a 24-can multipack (on top of product purchase price) compared to just 80p for a 2 litre plastic bottle, which research suggests would result in 60% of shoppers opting for larger, cheaper, but much less sustainable plastic alternatives – resulting in an immediate decline in demand (c.11%) for easy-to-recycle aluminium cans.

Alongside the implications for aluminium beverage can demand, Alupro’s report uncovers a number of wider concerns posed by a flat rate model. Indeed, modelling suggests that a fixed fee model would result in 10% lower return volumes in total than a variable rate system and plastic could become the most used beverage packaging on supermarket shelves.

Furthermore, with shoppers substituting convenient multipacks for cost-effective (but often impractical) large bulk containers, the UK could see a significant increase in portion sizes, or experience an immediate and unnecessary hike in product waste.

Conversely, a variable rate system would see the government achieve their 90% return rate almost a year earlier, leading to a higher recycling rate and less litter on the streets.

Rick Hindley, executive director at Alupro, commented: “While we are fully supportive of a well-designed DRS, research surrounding best practice design is limited. Our report aims to fill the gap and provide extensive modelling into the real-world implications of differing deposit fee options.

“While some may think that a flat rate deposit fee would be easier to implement, this isn’t necessarily the case. What’s more, it would result in a whole host of negative implications – a number of which the scheme is fundamentally trying to solve. Our concern is that simplicity will override sustainability in senior-level decision making. As such, we are imploring the government to take our statistics and modelling into close consideration when discussing the design of the UK’s DRS.”

To read the full report click here

 

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2020 – record year for aluminium packaging recycling

According to preliminary figures released by the Environment Agency earlier this week (11 January), the volume of aluminium packaging collected for recycling in the UK reached its highest ever level in 2020.

While reprocessors and exporters have until the end of the month to report their final annual tonnage, data from the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD) highlights that 145,035 tonnes of aluminium packaging was collected for recycling in the UK last year* – a 24% increase compared to 2019 (28,365) and exceeding the 2020 target by more than 26%.

Aluminium packaging collected through kerbside, bring and on-the-go systems increased year-on-year, while tonnage recovered from incinerator bottom ash experienced a significant uplift. While 2020 proved a positive year for recycling rates across the board, aluminium set the standard by exceeding its obligation by a larger percentage than any other material type.

Rick Hindley, executive director at Alupro, commented: “While only preliminary figures, I was delighted to read the latest data published on the NPWD. The past 12 months have seen a significant increase in the volume of aluminium packaging collected for recycling, which should be seen as a considerable achievement.

“Alongside reaching its highest recycling rate on record, the industry has exceeded its obligated targets by more than 30,000 tonnes – a notable increase year-on-year and considerably higher than any other material type. Such an impressive increase is not only a direct impact of COVID-19 and the resulting national lockdowns, but also suggests increased public awareness about the widespread benefits of best practice aluminium recycling.

“Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we have continued to run our highly successful MetalMatters and Every Can Counts behavioural change programmes across multiple locations nationwide. Both have proven instrumental in engaging with householders about how quick, simple and beneficial it is to recycle aluminium packaging.

“Looking ahead to the first quarter of 2021, we predict the ongoing impact of COVID-19 (and ongoing lockdown restrictions) to drive continually high aluminium packaging recycling rates. However, in line with the predicted return to work and schools, it’s important that we switch our positive habits from kerbside to on-the-go systems – this will prove instrumental to not only meeting obligated targets for 2021, but also realising our ambition of 100% recycling rates across the UK.”

For more information about Alupro, or its MetalMatters and Every Can Counts behavioural change programmes, visit www.alupro.org.uk. To access the latest aluminium packaging recycling data, visit the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD).

 

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*preliminary 2020 data sourced from the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD)

Why data quality will prove pivotal to the success of EPR reform

While a ‘typo’ from DEFRA has seemingly set a hare running regarding delayed timescales, the government assures us that much-needed reforms to the extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme will be agreed and implemented by 2023. The second round of formal consultations will take place in early 2021, following their delayed release due to Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the four consultations arising from the Resources and Waste Strategy (2018), EPR reform aims to revolutionise how the management of our waste packaging is organised and funded. Incentivising producers to embrace packaging that is easily reused, dismantled or recycled at end of life, it will replace the existing system, which has been in place since 1997.

With a ‘full net cost’ system proposed, reform will see producers pay the entire cost of managing their packaging at end of life – from collection, transport and recycling, to the clean-up of littered items, consumer education and disposal of non-recyclable items. Currently, UK packaging producers only pay a small percentage of these costs, with local authorities picking up the remainder.

However, while this system has been widely agreed as the most effective solution, it’s only fair that producers know exactly what they’re paying for through a completely transparent mechanism that accurately apportions responsibility. The quality of data is imperative to setting these parameters, as well as ensuring that every material ‘pays its way’.

 

Eco-modulation and its pivotal role

To ensure fair and effective implementation of the full net cost model across the packaging industry, eco-modulation is perceived to be the most viable mechanism to allocate fees. A relatively simple principle, eco-modulation dictates a fair structure through analysing the total cost of managing packaging (at end of life) and ensuring that producers refund the expenditure that their products create.

Materials that are considered more difficult to collect, transport and recycle (such as pouches and laminates) are given a higher rate of tax; while fees for more sustainable, easy to recycle materials (such as aluminium foil trays) are suitably lower. This approach not only fairly spreads the cost of managing end of life waste costs, but also incentives circular economy thinking and penalises the outdated ‘take, make, dispose’ model.

 

Data accuracy and EPR implementation

Although eco-modulation seems the shining light in EPR reform, the calculations behind the system are critical to ensure fairness and equality among different material types. In the UK, the scheme administrator will be responsible for analysing end of life costs and defining a fee structure accordingly. Understanding the costs faced by local authorities is therefore critical.

This is where the value of transparent, accurate, quality data becomes pivotal. Up-to-date, accurate insight into key variables is the backbone of EPR reform, not just a nice to have. To create an effective structure, the scheme administrator needs granular insight into the following areas (as a minimum):

  • The volume of material placed on the market (by type and by producer)
  • The amount of packaging collected by local authorities and businesses
  • True recycling rates (by packaging type, per local authority)

Without sufficient data, it would be almost impossible to accurately calculate the full net cost of recycling. Fee structure would become reliant on broader estimates, which has the potential to create inaccuracy across the system. Resultingly, easy-to-recycle items could end up subsidising the harder-to-recycle items – a scenario that we must avoid.

 

The trouble with national data quality

But while quality is key, the UK’s dated processes mean that disaggregated, decentralised and non-standardised data is unfortunately commonplace. Local authority insight is poor, with collections assessed by analysing tonnes of recyclate as a percentage of total waste (via tools such as WasteDataFlow) and very few providing accurate insight into specific material types (and volumes).

The only other national data source available is the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD), which assesses performance against whether enough packaging recovery notes (PRNs) have been issued to cover the packaging placed on the market. Unfortunately, both databases are populated by both local authorities and independent packaging companies simultaneously. Data entry is open to interpretation, with different rules applying to different geographies and no enforceable penalties incurred for missing data or late entry.

Good quality data is critical, but infrastructure is alarmingly lacking. In result, our ‘reformed’ EPR system could be based on wildly inaccurate data. Setting a baseline will be challenging, nigh on impossible, if we rely on a flawed data management system developed almost 30 years ago. It is simply inadequate for the task in hand.

 

Finding a solution to drive successful EPR reform

So, while our national focus continues to shine a spotlight on rushing through EPR reform, maybe we need to take a step back and evaluate whether we have the data in hand to effectively design a fair and effective solution in the first place. The worst case scenario would be using inaccurate data to create yet another poorly-functioning EPR scheme that doesn’t deliver upon the objectives it aims to tackle – in essence, taking two steps sideways, not forward.

But while this view may seem negative, creating a process to capture and manage data correctly should be a relatively simple task. All we need is a strong, single system that everyone is mandated to use. This system should be backed by clear rules and deadlines, all of which should be set and enforced by a credible scheme administrator who has the authority to effectively design, dictate and manage the system.

A subset of the information should be available to the public, allowing the necessary level of transparency required for scrutiny by all shareholders.

If we were to achieve this feat, it would be possible to not only ensure the smooth reform and implementation of a new EPR scheme, but also a plethora of other waste management schemes under review. Data quality, once again, will prove instrumental to the successful future of our waste management landscape – it’s a subject we that we surely can’t continue to ignore.

 

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Aluminium packaging recycling rates surpass 2020 target

According to data released by the Environment Agency earlier this week (22 October), aluminium packaging recycling rates have officially exceeded their 2020 target with three months of the year still remaining.

Q3 saw 42,265 tonnes of aluminium packaging collected for recycling, an increase of 41% compared to the same period in 2019 and 4% higher than the previous quarter in 2020 (40,653). To date in 2020, 119,198 tonnes of aluminium packaging has been collected for recycling – an increase of 48% compared to the same period in 2019.

With a net annual requirement of 113,390 tonnes, taking into consideration a 2019 carry-in of 7,746 tonnes, this means that aluminium packaging recycling rates have already exceeded 2020 targets by more than 5%.

Aluminium packaging collected through kerbside, bring and on-the-go systems totalled 78,685 tonnes (an increase of 28% compared to 2019), while tonnage recovered from incinerator bottom ash (IBA) more than doubled (from 19,139 in 2019 to 40,513 in 2020).

Rick Hindley, executive director at Alupro, commented: “The UK’s PRN data for Q3 shows an astonishing year-on-year increase among separately collected aluminium packaging, other local protocol fractions and aluminium packaging recovered from IBA. I’m delighted that rates have surpassed their target with three months of the year still remaining!

“Following the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown in March and resulting spike in home working, it’s great to see the results of the nation’s continued commitment to recycling its aluminium packaging. This, alongside greater public awareness of the benefits of recycling, have combined to drive the highest aluminium packaging recycling rate ever reported.

“As we move into Q4, assuming volumes remain high and residents continue to consume at home rather than on-the-go, we could see recycling rates reach close to 70% for all aluminium packaging and more than 80% for aluminium beverage cans before the end of the year.”

Why data quality is key to the future of UK packaging recycling

Tom Giddings, Sustainability and Public Affairs Manager at Alupro, discusses the importance of consistency in UK recycling data and explains why collaboration, simplification and standardisation will prove pivotal as the UK transitions towards a more circular economy.

Over the coming years, the packaging industry will experience seismic change. Consultations are expected in early 2021 regarding proposals for the introduction of a highly-functioning Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), much-needed reforms to the Producer Responsibility system , the national harmonisation of household waste collections across England as well as the recently completed consultation on the Plastics Packaging Tax.

With the ambition of improving recycling rates, supporting the UK’s transition towards a more circular economy and eliminating the scourge of litter, these reforms have the potential to revolutionise waste management. However, data quality is essential to their successful development and smooth implementation – not only as an accurate reference point to inform strategy and legislation, but also to demonstrate positive resulting impact and change.

Unfortunately, the UK’s recycling data is disaggregated, decentralised and widely deemed unsuitable for purpose. Unless we can effectively harness the reforms as an opportunity for change, we run the risk of creating further unnecessary complexity and failing to effectively leverage the biggest opportunity of a generation.

 

Why data is key to unlocking the future

Over the past decade, the UK’s perception towards packaging recycling has changed significantly. Now, more than ever, best practice waste management is being positioned as a primary driver of our transition towards a more circular economy. With strict targets set out by EU law, combined with increasing proactivity from both households and businesses alike, how we handle our packaging waste is now squarely in the spotlight.

Four consultations happening simultaneously is proof enough that real change is coming. In fact, the waste management landscape of the future will be hugely different to what it is today. Circularity, sustainability and treating waste as a resource will soon become commonplace, rather than just being seen as part of the solution.

However, while each of these proposals will fundamentally improve how waste is valued in the UK, they also represent a step-change in complexity and ambition, meaning significant funding is imperative to turn visionary thinking into tangible reality. With money in mind, there will undoubtably be more pressure than ever to closely track performance and prove value – a job that relies almost entirely on the accuracy of recycling data.

This is where the situation becomes a little more complicated. While progress has been made, a key failing of the UK’s recycling data is its historical reputation for being disaggregated, decentralised and non-standardised.

Even now, it’s hard to assess how well the UK is doing against targets, thanks to the vast number of databases used and various ways in which criteria is analysed. For example, national recycling performance is assessed against whether enough packaging recovery notes (PRNs) have been issued to cover the packaging placed on the market (via the National Packaging Waste Database). Conversely, local authority collections are assessed by analysing tonnes of recyclate as a percentage of total waste (via tools such as WasteDataFlow).

What’s more, these two databases, scrutinised as an example, are populated by both local authorities and independent packaging companies simultaneously. Data entry is open to interpretation, with different rules applying to different geographies and no enforceable penalties incurred for missing data or late entry.

While concerning, this scenario is commonplace across almost every packaging recycling data avenue and, in truth, suggests a lack of strong governance. With the critical importance of accurate recycling data, reliance on such disparate data is hugely concerning.

 

Devising a better platform for the future

While it’s safe to suggest that existing recycling data is unsuitable for purpose, we have a significant and immediate opportunity to change things for the better. The upcoming reforms provide an unprecedented opening to simplify, standardise and collaborate.

Imperative to this new approach is creating a failsafe, uniform way of reporting both the quantities and end of life destinations of different waste streams collected from UK households. This should include a breakdown of all key components that can be analysed separately, such as aluminium, to allow accurate and comparable analysis.

In an ideal scenario, this standardisation of data should be legislated and enforced accordingly, rather than being left to the discretion of those inputting the data, as well as being made accessible to all in a simple and effective manner.

By realising this change, we could achieve a number of things. Firstly, we would be able to accurately (and honestly) report on UK recycling rates – stream by stream. Secondly, we would be able to analyse and report successes and progress achieved. Finally, we will have an honest, reliable platform on which to base model future waste management decisions upon.

Conversely, if we fail to embrace change, we will be wedded to relying on frankly unsuitable data to inform the future of our national waste management strategy. What’s more, we will have missed our one glaring opportunity to fix a poorly functioning part of the UK’s waste management equation.

Granted, revolution will not prove a quick, easy or cheap fix, but the results will deliver a multitude of immediate – and long-lasting – benefits.

 

Tom Giddings – biography

As sustainability and public affairs manager at Alupro, Tom Giddings is responsible for supporting the not-for-profit organisation’s government engagement programme and providing technical advice across a range of sustainability challenges.

Previously, Tom held sustainability management, data and reporting roles at international packaging provider DS Smith. He has spoken on the importance of quality data and standardising the measurement of performance at several United Nations events, most recently at the COP 25 event in Madrid.

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