Imagine the reaction if it was revealed that within the UK we are mining a valuable resource, which could create jobs and wealth in the UK economy, but instead of that we exported the resource as a lower value product. Alternatively, imagine a process which had been allowed to become so inefficient that it restricted the choice of end markets for the raw material. There undoubtedly would be questions of why this is occurring, who has allowed it to happen and why? The next question would be - what support could be put in place to ensure that the resource could be used within the UK to improve the economy, to increase the value of the process and the materials and to exploit the opportunity to its full potential. This however is the situation we find ourselves in. What is the valuable resource I am talking about? Dry recyclate.
For every pound of value generated by pulling more recyclate out of the waste stream there is a multiplier of 1.63 for the indirect value created in the supply chain and local community. When you add on the value of a PRN and the material value this can be considerably higher. Take the example of plastic; by achieving the 2017 plastic targets there is a potential value add to the UK economy of £324 million pounds per year. If we can also create an innovative product within the UK for the recycled plastic - bottle to tray recycling or even tray to tray recycling - we can also create significant employment. For every 10k tonnes of plastic recycled, 86 jobs are potentially created. So the plastic targets could create an additional £100 million wealth per year and 2,400 jobs. This is based on collecting an additional 380k tonnes of material and all that material being treated in the UK. Currently, 70% of the collected material is exported.
Why waste a resource that would be good for the economy, good for social opportunities and good for the environment? We have a truly sustainable development opportunity, with the potential to create a circular economy.
No doubt there are a number of very good reasons why the task at hand may be more difficult than we first imagine – return on investment, time pressures, gaining stakeholder buy in and persuading business that this is a sound investment opportunity. When you consider the great progress which has been made in moving the UK away from a reliance on disposal, the challenges though great are achievable but a bit of will. Greater quality, cleaner materials will provide choice and flexibility for companies business models going forward in uncertain economies and changing market conditions.
What is holding us back, surely not a lack of will or joined thinking?