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The Lack of Sustainable Outlets for Post-Consumer Waste
When we take out our varied coloured bins every week for the local council to collect, do we stop to think about what actually happens to these waste streams, where they end up and how sustainable the treatment they receive is?
At the moment, a large percentage of the post-consumer plastic waste streams in the UK are sorted and separated in Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs), before being baled and then exported overseas to countries better suited to process and recycle these streams of polymer waste.
The real cause for concern here is that there are not enough sustainable processors and end users in the UK who can recycle the plastic waste produced and turn these materials back into viable, cost-effective and useful resources.
The types of polymers we are talking about here are those used in everyday household products; for example, items such as plastic plant pots, tubs, trays, HDPE milk bottles, detergent bottles and PET soft drinks bottles. In addition to these, there are many common products made of mixed polymer types (known as ‘Mixed Rigids’), such as children’s toys, garden furniture and plastic crates. All of these different waste materials will be sorted and baled here in the UK but will usually be exported to recycling facilities around Europe to actually be recycled. The most common polymer types among these waste streams are PET, PP and HDPE.
So, why aren’t there more recycling facilities here in the UK capable of ethically and sustainably recycling the plastic waste that we produce? There are a number of them around the country, but we need far more than we currently have to be able to properly deal with the waste we produce in-house – as we should be doing if we care about sustainable consumerism.
There are several reasons the UK recycling industry desperately needs to grow to the size required to deal with our own waste streams; a key reason being the significant reduction in carbon emissions resulting from haulage that we would see if we stopped having to send so much waste overseas. As well as this, investment in and expansion of our domestic recycling industry would result in thousands of new jobs across the country.
Also, since the UK has now left the European Union the amount of unnecessary bureaucracy, form-filling and general red tape involved in exporting recyclables to countries still in the EU makes it even more important that we have adequate recycling outlets here in the UK. Growing the UK recycling market would make the industry more efficient, more sustainable, and more profitable for all involved – which would only further incentivise recycling.
There are plenty of willing and motivated individuals and organisations out there with well thought out business plans and proposals for exactly the kind of new reprocessing facilities we need here in the UK. Pressure needs to be put on the government to make generous grants and other sources of funding available to help bring these plans into reality. The benefits to the UK, both environmentally and economically, will be numerous, and it will help bring about the much needed shift in both the UK and global economy towards a more circular model.
At Let’s Recycle It, we work every day to support and grow the recycling industry in the UK, and as such we call on the government to commit to investing in the future of recycling. The necessity of increasing the UK’s internal recycling capacity means that these new recycling facilities are likely to be inevitable sooner or later – but given the choice, why not choose sooner? Let’s not put this off for five years and then start worrying about it; let’s start preparing for the future today!
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