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Chris Dow, CEO, Closed Loop Recycling, says the industry’s push for the reform of the PRN and PERN system is all about national long-term resource security

The announcement by the UK Government department responsible for policy and regulations on the environment, food and rural affairs (DEFRA) of the long awaited results of its consultation on packaging and waste recovery targets, supporting a new target of 57% by 2017, has the potential to be a fantastic boost to the country’s recycling and packaging industries and will help take us to the next level. We would expect over a short period of time to have increased availability of UK recyclate, the creation of hundreds of UK jobs and much needed investment in the recycling and reprocessing sector.

However, hand-in-hand with the increase in recycling targets, it is essential that we see reform of the current producer responsibility system (PRN and PERN), which disproportionately incentivises the export of valuable resources and, ultimately, green jobs to overseas markets. This unlevel and unfair playing field is an unintended consequence of a system that belongs to another era and if it isn’t modernised and updated, it could result in all DEFRA’s good work becoming another sad story of an opportunity lost.

Britain’s packaging industry, as well as major brands such as Britvic and M&S, is looking to the recycling sector to produce high quality material in the volumes that will ensure they can produce packaging with the lowest carbon footprint in the world. This will ensure that Britain will be a world-wide leader in sustainability on many levels.

Ironically, the current petrol tanker driver dispute gives us a small glimpse of what it would be like to live in a world of resource shortage. Imagine if we were to spend hours a week queuing for petrol because this fossil fuel was close to running out. Recycling our valuable plastics is one way all of us can participate in ensuring such a situation is a long way away, and domestic reprocessing of those recycled materials is a way of reducing our reliance on the import of virgin fossil derived fuels.

In principle our industry push for the reform of the PRN and PERN system is all about national long-term resource security. The system has the potential to produce an excellent outcome for all sectors as long as we face up to its weaknesses and address them as we should. We believe it would make sense to see this done as part of a comprehensive review of the Carbon Reduction Commitment, which is currently seen by businesses as over-complicated. We, and our industry colleagues, will be working hard over the coming months to convince the Government that a review of PRN and PERN should be part of this process.

In addition, we are encouraged by the EU road map to a green economy policy proposal, the CBI’s recent publication Made to Last and the ‘circular economy’ ideas from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. These should all encourage manufacturers of goods and packaging to utilise recycled content wherever possible.

These various initiatives and targets paint an exciting picture for the future of the packaging industry, in which customers will demand all packaging should be recycled and we will have the technology to deliver on this. There is already a massive demand amongst major brand owners for recycled food grade plastics. It is the increased demand for rPET and rHDPE from these big brand owners and packaging companies, as well as better collection rates and increased recycling by consumers, that is continuing to drive the market for food grade plastics. Hence the need for the whole industry to step wholeheartedly work towards achieving the 57% recycling target.

There are also leading edge advances taking place in the reprocessing of other polymers, such as polystyrene and mixed plastics sorting facilities, which will move us towards the utopian target of zero landfill while shaping the future of consumer brands and consumer purchasing decisions.

This industry will be a major economic driver of the future, creating green jobs and providing a new generation of manufacturing capacity. To achieve this, we need to continue to develop the infrastructure for plastics bottle reprocessing and continue to increase bottle collections. This can only be achieved through a collection strategy that gives every UK household the opportunity to recycle plastics bottles in convenient and easy-to-use systems, hand-in-hand with an economic climate that creates a level playing field for companies operating in this sector.

The new targets have brought us onto the pitch – now let’s hit the ball out of the park!

Closed Loop Recycling is the world’s first food grade PET and HDPE plastics bottle recycling plant, capable of taking 35,000 tonnes of recovered plastics bottles.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and may not be shared by this publication.

Chris Dow Chris Dow

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