Market development is essential to meet recycling targets

In order to meet its recycling targets, the UK will have to focus on market development for products made from recycled materials, rather than on environmental issues, according to the founder of the highly successful Clean Washington Centre in Seattle.

Products made from recycled materials have to compete with low cost products made from virgin materials, pointed out David Dougherty, now an advisor on the UK Government’s Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP). “Leave your environmental baggage at the door,” said Dougherty, talking at the integrated waste management organisation, Project Integra, open day. “Just explain why your material is better than the alternatives.”

Dougherty’s principles of market development include finding new uses for recycled materials, such as using glass as a blasting abrasive or as a construction aggregate, using paper to make roofing insulation, plastics for safety fencing, and tyres as paint additives. The recycling business needs to focus on conversion of selected industries to recycled materials, and also to build on the value that is already present in recovered materials, such as tyres, which are already complex pieces of engineering, said Dougherty.

In order to reach the 30% recycling target required in the UK, from the current 8% recycling situation, says Dougherty, there are three approaches which the UK could take:

  • enforcing more stringent regulations;
  • increased financial incentives;
  • minimising risks to manufacturers.

According to Dougherty, the last option is the best. This can be done through minimising production failure, assuring consistent quality, minimising barriers to market entry, assuring a consistent supply of materials, minimising capital risks, and tailoring market resolutions when required. Solutions include the reduction of production failure by providing technical support, and changing the market perception of recycled materials in order to minimise barriers to the market.

The problem of financing recycling projects can be solved by organisations such as the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), which are willing to help companies secure funding for recycling projects. According to Kit Oliver, Chair of SEEDA’s Sustainable Development Committee, the organisation helps local authorities, business organisations, and local businesses to work together. It helps secure funding once a plan of action is in place, and assist with monitoring the project. “SEEDA welcomes the linking of the local needs to the regional and national agenda,” said Oliver.

Delegates at the open day agreed that recyclable material should not be regarded as ‘waste’, which is seen as a negative concept, but as a ‘recovered’ resource. The size of the players in the recycling market was also seen as important, necessitating the joining together of local authorities and private companies.

Project Integra is Hampshire’s public/private partnership strategy for integrated waste management, involving the joining of forces of fourteen local authorities and a private waste disposal company. The programme has been awarded Beacon Council status by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) as an example of excellence, and is intended to lead the way for other local authorities in sustainable resource management.

Founded in 1991, the Clean Washington Centre, based in Seattle, Washington State, initially worked with 12 plastics companies, encouraging them to recycle plastics, enabling them to alter the amounts of recycled material that they use, allowing them to adapt to variabilities in the costs of the reclaimed plastic. The centre has now works with a wide range of recycling industries, and has published more reports on recycling technologies than all the other states and federal government put together. The City of Seattle now recycles 51% of its waste.

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