Recycling goes to market
Making more trips to the bottle or can bank will not turn the UK into a true recycling nation - the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) looks at the market for waste.Greater participation in all kinds of collection schemes is, of course, essential to driving up recycling rates and cutting reliance on landfill.
But unless the growing quantities of glass, plastic, paper and other materials being collected are transformed into real-world products that people want and actually buy, our much-needed recycling revolution will fail to achieve its potential.
Stimulating markets is a key aim of WRAP (the Waste & Resources Action Programme). Set up by Government in 2001 to deliver a step change in UK recycling, WRAP is complementing its drive to increase collection rates with initiatives to encourage demand for recycled materials.
Supporting reprocessing infrastructure, building confidence in recycled products, developing innovative products with commercial potential - WRAP's range of actions in this complex area are dovetailing to deliver a multi-faceted recycling sector with the ability to boost economic growth as well as environmental performance.
Producing the Goods
Across the UK, new reprocessing facilities are turning recycled materials into mainstream products that can compete effectively with "conventional" alternatives.
WRAP is underpinning this development with targeted grant support for infrastructure that otherwise would not have been built. Around 3 million tonnes of recycling capacity has already been delivered, typified by White Moss Horticulture's new £2 million composting facility in Liverpool.
This innovative set-up, where the whole production process takes place on one site, received a WRAP grant of over £500,000 and will turn nearly 40,000 tonnes/year of garden waste into high-quality, competitively priced composted material.
The same pattern can be seen throughout the recycling sector.
R Plevin & Sons will process nearly 100,000 tonnes/year of waste wood into high-quality animal bedding and other products at its new facility in Nottinghamshire.
Eagle Recycling in Stirlingshire will produce over 90,000 tonnes/year of high-quality aggregate from construction, demolition and excavation waste.
By showing how the value and profitability of recycled materials can be enhanced, these and other WRAP-supported facilities are also helping to attract new players to the sector.
Moreover, infrastructure development extends well beyond products remote from the mainstream consumer.
The WRAP-supported upgrade at Shotton Paper in North Wales has helped to ensure that 100% of UK-manufactured newsprint is produced from recycled paper.
Upstream, too, vital progress is being made in identifying next-generation recycled products that will drive future market development.
WRAP's R&D programme is at the heart of this process, catalysing a climate of innovation which is feeding through into a flow of marketable products harnessing all kinds of materials.
For instance, a host of practical uses for recycled glass are already emerging, from water filtration and grit blasting to the manufacture of processed sand for golf courses.
Food-grade high-density polyethylene (HDPE) made from recovered milk containers is just one product showing promise in the plastics sector, and trials involving household names such as Boots, Marks & Spencer and Coca-Cola Enterprises Ltd are testing the use of recycled plastic (polyethylene terephthalate - PET) in retail packaging.
Across the board, then, innovation today is laying the foundations for the markets of tomorrow.
A Question of Confidence
But what can be done to encourage more people to buy the products that are becoming available? How can they feel confident that, in performance terms, a recycled product will actually deliver? Here, reliable Standards and Specifications are playing a crucial role in generating the market "pull" that can stimulate and underpin the recycling sector.
Collaborating closely with the industry, WRAP has been instrumental in the introduction of Quality Protocols and BSI (British Standards Institution) Publicly Available Specifications for a range of recycled materials.
BSI PAS 100, for example, represented the UK's first-ever baseline quality standard for manufacturing composted products. Most of the compost sold in this country is now made by producers who are fully PAS 100 accredited or actively involved in the accreditation scheme.
Complementing this work on standards, awareness-raising about recycled products and their advantages forms a central element of WRAP's drive to stimulate market demand.
On one level, it means targeting industry and local authorities - the landscaping industry is currently taking part in WRAP-funded trials showing the benefits of using recycled wood products as surfacing materials.
On another level, it means reaching out to ordinary consumers and persuading them to grasp the ever-increasing opportunities to 'buy recycled'.
High-profile stands at the Ideal Home Show and major horticultural events have showcased how recycled materials can meet domestic needs and, in tandem with an ongoing publicity campaign across a range of media channels, represent keystones in WRAP's vigorous approach to mobilising public demand.
Creating a critical mass of demand for recycled materials is a priority in WRAP's market development work. Influencing the public sector to embrace sustainable procurement practices - and so become an 'engine' for demand - offers an excellent way of achieving this.
WRAP is, therefore, working alongside public sector bodies to help them specify recycled in major procurement exercises.
Trailblazer projects include the £300 million Whipps Cross University Hospital rebuilding programme, which incorporated a 10% minimum recycled content requirement in its tendering procedure.
WRAP procurement initiatives also include the introduction of a Paper Advocacy Team. Its brief is to persuade more organisations to consider recycled content when making decisions about paper purchasing.
Stability is another essential element in the development of flourishing markets for recycled materials. Historically, recycled markets have been characterised - and hindered - by price volatility.
To provide the greater transparency needed to counter this, WRAP has introduced an award-winning Materials Pricing Report, providing collectors of recycled materials with price information and market intelligence via a weekly e-bulletin. Model contracts, too, are promoting more stable trading throughout the sector.
The challenge of stimulating robust UK markets for recycled materials, then, requires broad thinking. WRAP's initial steps along this path are demonstrating what is needed to enable those materials to break out of their niches and into the mainstream.
Maintaining this momentum will be crucial if markets are to thrive and the UK's recycling revolution is to succeed in getting - and staying - real.