Why isn't everyone buying recycled?

With mounting pressure on organisations to adopt a more sustainable approach to procurement, there has never been a better time to consider products with a recycled content. Peter Skelton of the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) highlights one particular recycled material and explains why the organisation believes it has the potential to shape future purchasing decisions in a number of industries.

Over recent years there has been an increase in the number and variety of products available that are made from recycled materials. Aware of the fact that recycled products must survive in a competitive market and meet stringent requirements of buyers, manufacturers have undertaken extensive research and developed new technology resulting in higher quality end products. These products are proving that "buying recycled" need not mean compromising on quality.

As part of a series of initiatives to promote the use of recycled products in different markets, WRAP has recently launched a programme to highlight the use of recycled plastic as a wood alternative. Working closely with manufacturers and suppliers, WRAP aims to raise awareness of the financial, performance and environmental benefits that recycled plastic can offer.

WRAP's key focus is to develop stable and efficient markets for recycled materials and products and removing barriers to waste minimisation, re-use and recycling. This particular programme will help to stimulate demand for recycled plastic products and, as a result, reduce the amount of waste plastics (eg; plastic bottles, CD cases, vending machine drinks cups) being sent to landfill.

The aim of the programme is to target current buyers and specifiers of wood products, primarily in the estates management and landscaping sectors. Through a programme of media relations, attendance at industry events, brochure mailings and discussions with industry influencers, WRAP aims to raise awareness of the many benefits that recycled plastic can offer and, consequently, increase demand for the products available.

AN ESTABLISHED MARKET

The UK market for recycled plastic has been in existence since the 1970s, when products traditionally made from wood began being produced using recycled plastic. However, in the early stages, demand was low and concerns were raised about the quality and appearance. Since then, considerable investment and research have produced a significantly improved range of high quality, aesthetically pleasing recycled plastic products.

There are many examples of recycled plastic being used in place of wood for a number of applications across the UK. The material is particularly suited to applications where products will be subject to harsh and damp conditions and as a result, the most popular and successful recycled plastic products include walkways, pontoons, signage, fendering, fencing, benches, outdoor furniture and play equipment.

WRAP believes that the time is right for organisations to make the switch to recycled plastic products, but at the same time recognises that buyers and specifiers need to be convinced of the benefits on offer before making the switch. By highlighting these benefits through the programme, WRAP aims to dispel any existing misconceptions of the products.

COST CONSIDERATIONS

When it comes to the decision making process, cost is always a key consideration for those holding the budget. Despite occasionally having greater upfront costs, research has shown that fencing, signage, walkways and the many other products produced using recycled plastic can offer significant whole life cost savings.

Research undertaken by WRAP demonstrates that, compared to a similar walkway made from wood, a recycled plastic walkway can offer savings of up to 50% per annum in whole life costs. This research, which considers the upfront costs as well as labour costs for maintenance and replacement, shows that the initial breakeven point will be met when the wood walkway needs to be replaced for the first time.

MEETING EXPECTATIONS

As well as focusing on the cost advantages to be gained from switching to recycled plastic products, WRAP's programme aims to highlight the significant performance benefits available. In the past, recycled plastic products faced criticism relating to their appearance and quality however, this is no longer the case and many of the products are now recognised as outperforming wood in a number of ways.

As a material, recycled plastic offers a number of characteristics that differentiate it from wood. Durability is perhaps the most important of these. Unlike wood, recycled plastic does not rot or require maintenance when used in harsh or damp conditions. As well as being durable, the material will not crack or splinter when used in applications such as walkways, cycle paths and bridges. Recycled plastic can also be textured to give a rough non-slip surface - an added safety benefit.

For organisations responsible for areas that are prone to vandalism such as parks and playgrounds, recycled plastic offers important advantages over wood as it is more resistant to graffiti and vandalism, is less flammable and is also more difficult to ignite than wood.

A LONG TERM VIEW

So, it is clear that recycled plastic products can offer significant financial and performance benefits which, WRAP believes, will convince more organisations to switch to buying and specifying them. But, as sustainability moves higher up the agenda, the environmental benefits that recycled plastic can offer will in turn begin to have a greater impact on purchasing decisions.

Many organisations and industries are coming under increasing pressure to demonstrate their commitment to corporate social responsibility and local authorities have the added task of meeting specific targets and setting policy objectives. WRAP aims to help organisations realise that purchasing products made from recycled materials is a simple step.

Buying recycled helps to create a market for recovered materials and increases demand for recycled raw materials, which in turn prevents waste from being sent to landfill and helps to close the recycling loop. In the case of recycled plastic, for example, every 1.5 metre section of raised walkway represents 1500 post consumer plastic bottles diverted from landfill.

While WRAP's latest programme to promote recycled plastic as an alternative to wood has an important role to play in communicating the numerous benefits of this particular range of products to audiences in estates management and landscaping sectors, there is still much more to be done to encourage organisations to consider recycled products.

This is reflected in a recent survey of local authorities who, despite being set recycling and sustainability targets, are still not taking the issue of sustainable procurement seriously. A recent MORI survey of local government procurement practice, commissioned by WRAP, found that less than half a per cent of local authority spending on goods and services knowingly involves recycled materials.

It is through programmes such as this latest one, that WRAP aims to change attitudes and influence purchasing decisions. But the responsibility also lies with those making the decisions. Only by running trials of recycled products or visiting sites where these products are already in situ, will organisations find out for themselves the benefits that can be achieved.

Visit WRAP's website for more information, examples of other products made from recycled materials, case studies and a full list of suppliers http://www.wrap.org.uk/plastics/woodalternative or call 0808 100 2040.


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