A Valient effort

Rob Bell talks to Valpak chief executive Steve Gough about the compliance scheme's expanding range of recycling-related activities

Steve Gough is animated and enthusiastic – as one would hope of the person leading the country’s largest packaging compliance scheme, presiding over an organisation that, although small, accounts for 60% of the Packaging Recovery Note market.

Beyond simply managing its members’ compliance, Valpak has set up a recycling and waste management subsidiary, Valient Recycling, launched a WEEE “pre-compliance scheme” and an “urban chic family of modular recycling banks” called Rescape, and is working with local authorities to increase recycling rates.

“We’ve listened to our members and worked out what we can do on their behalf,” Gough says. “Valpak has a history of members requesting a recycling service. But it is difficult with such a large membership to match the demand for recycling services from companies’ premises while maintaining the ability to supply it economically.”

Valient is, however, attempting to provide just that service, and has even opened an office in China, where demand for plastics are currently particularly high. Gough sees this as added value, allowing Valient to ensure standards are maintained outside of the UK.

“We’re very focused on the fact that a lot of our members are blue chip organisations. If we’re going to conduct an activity we need to ensure it is done in the right manner.”

Five thousand miles

But surely this contrasts with criticism about the
environmental impact of shipping waste 5,000 miles to China? “There’s a lot of emotion around this instead of straight logic,” Gough says. “China has a huge demand for resources. There are ships arriving laden, but most are going back empty. There’s currently very little reprocessing capacity in the UK, so it’s almost a no-brainer – providing it is handled correctly at the other end.”

Gough believes Valient can ensure this in China, despite reports of American waste IT equipment ending up littering the banks of Chinese rivers. And as Valpak is already moving to ensure its members are compliant with the forthcoming regulations, he believes the dumping of WEEE on foreign shores is unlikely to occur.

“We’ve been talking to some of the large waste management companies in Germany that are further ahead than us on WEEE. It is all about reputation, reputation, reputation. The people that they serve cannot be seen to have their material handled in an inappropriate manner.”

Lack of awareness
Valpak’s pre-compliance scheme was launched when it was realised that some 500 of 3,000 members will be regulated. “WEEE is going to cause a huge amount of material to arise,” Gough says. “That material is going to end up at reprocessors in the UK – some of which are probably handling packaging. So we’re concerned that we are going to see some reprocessors giving up on packaging and focusing on WEEE.”

Another problem is the lack of awareness among companies with responsibility under the rules. “The number of companies which will come under the regulations varies hugely as well – I’ve seen numbers between 20,000 and 100,000,” Gough says.

More in the pipeline

Beyond its involvement in working towards the WEEE deadline and its work through Valient, Rescape and with WRAP, Valpak sees it as essential that it constantly strives to maintain and increase recycling rates in order to protect the interests of its members: “More material means cheaper material means cheaper PRNs,” Gough says.

With this in mind, local authorities are his next target: “We could do more.” His team will no doubt be pleased to hear there are yet more projects on the horizon.

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