Taking inspiration from the words of Rudyard Kipling’s iconic poem IF (“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs ….”), I believe a “Keep Calm and Carry On” approach should be the mantra for the UK waste and recycling industry in 2020. While the population and most businesses have understandably been preoccupied with Brexit and the recent UK General Election, the ravages of the global recycling and waste markets have buffeted many industry players with a degree of uncertainty and price volatility not seen since the mid 1980s. In the opinion of many commentators, it is likely to be more prolonged than the market crash of 2008.
A combination of tightening demands for quality material from export markets, increased collection and sorting costs and lower recyclate revenues all combined in 2019 to push many companies operating at the downstream collection end of the recycling value chain to new levels of financial despair.
The prevailing market, whilst difficult to navigate, perversely provides a fertile environment for much needed structural change and a rewriting of the rules of engagement for stakeholders along the whole recycling and waste material supply chain.
Firstly, at a practical operational level, it needs to be fully accepted by brands, manufacturers and packaging organisations that the old models for cost and revenue share no longer function fairly in a market where projected recyclate value has become a seriously unpredictable component of budgets. It is incumbent on all stakeholders, short to medium term, to recognise and where possible financially support the fantastic contribution already being made to a sustainable economy by hard pressed traditional recovered fibre collectors and recyclers.
Secondly, at a governmental level, the review of the UK EPR system must once and for all address the historical economic imbalances of the current system. The ‘polluter pays’ principle must be translated in a genuine re-sharing of the true cost of collection back upstream to manufacturers and packaging producers. While the new UK Government will have many priorities, the opportunity to support the roll out of the Circular Economy Package through promotion of innovative eco-redesign, mandatory levels of recycled content in packaging and ‘real’ support for UK domestic reprocessing, will I believe, reaffirm the critical role and market leading benefits of fibre based packaging.
Finally, it would be an environmental disaster to see the industry go into reverse and unravel the huge efforts made over the last 20 to 30 years successfully promoting paper and card recycling. So, as we enter 2020 it is paramount that key industry players strive to “Keep Calm and Carry On”. The problems, though many, will surely pass and the stronger paper recycling industry that emerges from the current malaise will continue to lead the way in developing a more balanced circular economy.
For further information, please cantact Dr Jim Malone – [email protected]