Making better use of resources by improving reuse and recycling

This month we are reminded of the need to protect and make better use of valuable resources through a number of awareness days, including World Environment Day and World Oceans Day.

It’s vital that we work together to find solutions to protect our environment, combat climate change, and support a circular economy where we re-use, re-manufacture, repair and recycle as much as possible.

Recycling and re-use of materials starts with segregation of the different waste streams on site, such as paper, glass, plastic, and food waste, to avoid contamination. Unfortunately, items can often end up in the incorrect bin.  The value of paper, for example, is significantly reduced if it is contaminated with wet wastes such as food, and may even render it unrecyclable.

Poor segregation will lead to increased costs of disposal for many facilities. It may even result in prosecution if the waste is ‘mixed’ and is deemed no longer suitable for the waste treatment or disposal option that has been selected. In healthcare settings, for instance, segregation on site is vital to maintain compliance with clinical waste regulation.

Organisations should ensure there are enough recycling bins, that they are correctly positioned, and that they are clearly marked.

From a practical viewpoint, our sacks, bags and speciality products for the capture and containment of resources for recycling enable easy separation of materials and limit the chance of contamination, whilst having the lowest environmental impact. Buyers need to look out for independent, internationally recognised quality standards such as EN13432 for compostable and biodegradable packaging. This way they’ll know that all the constituents and components, for example their food caddy liner or green waste bin liners, will biodegrade and compost as expected.

Equally, most responsible producers of plastic will have systems in place to support buyers’ recycling initiatives, and offer to collect ‘waste’ packaging and other material as part of a landfill diversion programme. Our free, used polythene recovery service is one of the ways that we help our customers to be more resource-efficient. It keeps valuable resources within the circular economy by returning clean polythene packaging to the production cycle. This scheme helps with the recovering and recycling of materials within the UK, for re-use and re-distribution.

Used polythene is collected from our customers on a back-load basis, for recycling at our production facility, Cromwell Plastics Recycling, in Derbyshire. This means that no additional vehicle journeys are incurred, as we collect this material when we deliver our recycling products. Taking a more active role in sourcing good quality recycled material reduces the need for virgin polymers in line with the WRAP guidelines. This promotes the stimulation of a circular economy of resources, diverting useful material from landfill or incineration. Benefits for our customers include reduction of waste disposal costs and regular reporting of packaging returns for recycling.

The Government has outlined plans to introduce an extended producer responsibility system for packaging in 2023. The reforms aim to place the full cost of collection, treatment, and disposal of packaging waste on to the producer, potentially including clean-up costs. This legislation is designed to drive a reduction in the use of packaging, increase in the recycled content, increase in recyclability and recycling, and reduction of littering. Costs are expected to be significantly higher than the current system.

We ensure that there is minimal packaging with our products, for example by removing heavy cardboard outers and/or replacing with more resource-efficient, recyclable polythene packaging. This eliminates a significant volume of waste packaging, in line with extended producer responsibility. It also helps to reduce the pallet size and weight, cutting carbon emissions during production and transport. Less storage space is required too.

We all want to see the recovery, reuse, and recycling of all types of packaging, and ensure materials don’t end up in landfill or in our oceans. In our desire to do the right thing, the challenge for organisations and individuals is not simply to eschew plastics in favour of less resource efficient alternatives, but to choose responsibly sourced materials with the lowest carbon footprint – most likely the lightweight plastics which have been so demonised by the media. The bigger concern is climate change, and we must avoid knee-jerk reactions that lead to resources being burnt through faster, using heavier and more polluting alternatives that use more energy and waste more food. We must, instead, become champions of resource efficiency and recycling best practice.