Compliance has driven the UK recycling industry for many years now. But with the growing influence of the circular economy and resource efficiency on EU policy, it seems like compliance through extended producer responsibility is set to evolve.
In the UK, recycling rates have increased dramatically in a decade. Of course, this has been driven by regulatory change in large part, which has funded the infrastructure that’s needed to recycle more and more.
Producers are getting serious
But alongside that change there has also been a parallel evolution in thinking as producers have been obliged to take seriously the question of resource efficiency and recycling – and for reputational, environmental and commercial reasons, not just to comply with regulations. It’s well understood now that responsible, resource-efficient production is good business. That’s not an argument that needs to be won any longer, I don’t think.
A related question is whether the UK’s regulations around packaging, waste electricals and batteries have done enough, quickly enough. Lots of progress has been made, for sure, with huge increases in UK recycling in absolute terms. But it’s also clear there is a way to go. Just consider that the European Union now wants recycling rates of 70 per cent by 2030, while UK recycling is down in the low-40s in percentage terms. So progress is being made, but there are no grounds for complacency.
Opportunity knocks – for some
For me, a fundamental change may come from companies themselves, if they start to grasp the ideas, and opportunities, of the circular economy.
On the one side there’s the issue of the current compliance system and the demands it places on producers. On the other, there is the more imponderable question of whether certain companies will unlock the opportunities in the circular economy and create a true closed-loop recycling system. If a company out there does lead the way and take real ownership of its waste, then the relationship with the infrastructure and arrangements would change including with the recycling sector.
Quite how this will precisely play out is, at this stage, up for discussion.
Having said that, there is definitely a clear need to strengthen the link between the end recycling point and the producer. So often, the audit trail for waste breaks down, which makes it hard for producers to get data visibility and accountability on their waste and its final destination. If that can change, there is a big opportunity here for producers and more will be willing to grasp it.
Steve established Ecosurety in 2003 in response to the lack of flexibility, innovation and customer-focus in the compliance scheme market. He took inspiration from the mobile phone market, which continues to provide a diverse range of pick-and-mix options for the customer, and built the original business on a commitment to provide flexible, friendly and tailored support for all clients.
He is passionate about bringing the latest business concepts from other markets and industries and applying them to the environmental sector for the benefit of clients.
In the middle of March, which seems like a lifetime ago, I wrote about the likely impacts of COVID-19 on producer responsibility.Read More >>