Valpak looks to send waste shortfalls packing

If the UK is to meet its packaging waste targets, it must increase recycling levels - and fast. Maxine Perella spoke to Valpak to find out how they are working with councils to address this

With 2008 only 16 months away, the packaging industry must be starting to grit its teeth. If the UK is to meet its targets under the EU Directive on Packaging & Packaging Waste, then it must recover 60% and recycle 55% of all packaging waste by the end of 2008.

However, estimated shortfalls in the amount of packaging material being collected for recycling, particularly by local authorities, make for bleak reading. In June, Defra released a report which scrutinised packaging waste operational plans from compliance schemes and found that few of them indicated what proportion of their tonnage would come from household sources.

If the 2008 targets are to be met, obligated companies and compliance schemes have to ensure sufficient packaging recycling levels, but this will only happen if there's a significant increase in the volume of packaging material collected from the household waste stream.

Tracking the trends
One company which is engaging with local authorities to make this happen is Valpak, which runs the UK's largest packaging waste compliance scheme with over 5,000 members. Last year Valpak published its Packflow report which surveyed every LA in the UK to find out how much household packaging waste they were collecting for four key materials - glass, aluminium, steel and plastic bottles.

Crucially, it gave estimated shortfalls for each material year-by-year from 2005 to 2008. Based on 2003-4 data, it found that the estimated 2008 shortfalls were most acute for glass and plastic bottles, being 185,000tpa and 33,000tpa respectively.

On the back of the report's findings, Valpak drafted in a new member of staff last December specifically to develop strategic partnerships with LAs to boost packaging waste collection rates.

That person is Rick Hindley, Valpak's corporate & local government affairs manager, who has plenty of experience in the recycling industry, having worked for Novelis for six years and before that at Alupro, where he worked with LAs to help boost aluminium can collection rates.

While the report warns of a significant compliance gap, the beauty of Packflow is that it is constantly being updated. Hindley says that Valpak is currently looking at 2005 data in order to adjust the figures and gauge the latest state of play. And with more LAs starting to increase kerbside collection capacity, particularly for plastics, things are looking up.

"There has been a big step change between 2003-4 and 2005-6, a lot of infrastructure has gone in and a lot more material is coming out than we anticipated in 2005," explains Hindley.

Future predictions
Asked if he thinks the estimated shortfalls for 2008 won't be as severe as originally predicted, he replies: "Depending on what we see from last year's data, these shortfalls may or may not be the same, but our gut feeling is that there will still be a huge glass shortfall with a significant shortfall in plastic bottles and film".

He adds: "If you look at PRN prices, they've dropped like a stone in the past few months so it suggests there won't be shortfalls this year, with the exception of glass where prices have held. We think that 2006 should be alright, but we're worried about 2007 and 2008".

The scale of the challenge can be seen by looking at the amount of material collected per household. As a national average, during 2003-4 around 27kg was collected per household - this has effectively double to 50kg if the 2008 targets are to be met. And with LA targets being weight-based, bridging that gap won't be easy.

"We have to recognise that the key drivers for LAs are the Landfill Directive and LATS, and packaging doesn't do an awful lot to help them with that," Hindley points out, adding that the driver for councils to collect more packaging waste is mainly public pressure.

So, what can Valpak and others in the industry do to engage effectively with LAs? Hindley says the first thing is to look at where there's under-performance - the Packflow project found that major metropolitan areas such as Liverpool or Birmingham which hold large numbers of people tend to under-perform more, even though they hold potentially the largest volumes of packaging waste. But even in areas where there is good infrastructure, recovery levels can be poor.

"A lot of work needs to be done to boost participation rates," says Hindley, adding that there are two key levers which can make a difference - alternate weekly collections and variable charging. Doorstepping campaigns, if implemented properly, can also play a significant role.

Through its consultancy arm, Valpak is working with LAs on projects which will help deliver volume. These include, for example, the funding of doorstepping campaigns or collection boxes when new materials like plastics are added to kerbside collections.

The company has also been approached by a group of authorities to fund a person to develop a regional communications campaign, covering a large geographical area with a large population - "potentially huge volumes of material," notes Hindley.

However he says it's a race against time, pointing out that there are "no quick fixes". "Working with LAs, it can take a long time to get these things implemented. We're seeking to engage, but it isn't easy. 2008 isn't far away and so we're only really interested in projects that are going to deliver volume by 2008."

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