Speaking at the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group meeting in London yesterday (27 June), WRAP’s head of collections & quality Linda Crichton said that UK only recycles around a fifth of the materials that enter the economy each year.

To achieve a truly circular economy, all elements of the supply chain need to be in place and working effectively, she maintained.

“That means the role of householders and businesses in terms of separating their waste needs to be absolutely clear,” she said.

“Collection systems need to be designed and delivered and effectively and efficiently run. There has to be capacity in the infrastructure for both the sorting of materials and the recovery of materials and of course the markets have to be there and the reprocessing has to be delivered too.”

Crichton told delegates that the UK had seen a steady increase in recycling rates for a range of dry recyclables over recent years but that quality remained an issue. Material quality, she argued, underpinned the sustainability of recycling and applied throughout the entire supply chain.

“If we are going to substitute raw materials with the secondary raw materials, then users of these materials should have the confidence that they will be delivered to the required standards,” she said.

This meant that materials had to be delivered consistently to the marketplace and were effectively separated to meet customer requirements.

Crichton added that the materials would also have to be delivered in the volumes required by the customer and at a price that sustained the market and allowed the benefits to be felt throughout the supply chain.

“I think a lot of the quality debate has tended to focus on MRFs and how well they operate or don’t operate, but it’s broader,” she maintained.

She added that it also depended on the quality of the material collected, which was critical in terms of non-target materials in the feed stream.

“It does require greater transparency around how quality is assessed and measured and greater transparency around standards that are required of some reprocessors. It also requires improvements to many MRF operations.”

Nick Warburton

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