WILL COMMERCIAL DRIVERS DROWN OUT THE GREEN RECOVERY?

Date Published: Friday 21st August 2020

The impact of climate change is back on the agenda as the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the important role of plastic and packaging, and how carbon use is equally, if not more important than plastic elimination in addressing environmental concerns.

In Summer 2020, the full picture of the global impact of Covid-19 has yet to become clear, as well as how ‘green recovery’ ambitions will play out. RECOUP’s latest report, Covid-19 Impact Report, highlights the importance of a green recovery for the UK, but there are questions around what this looks like and how can it be translated into tangible actions with sustainability at the heart of it.

Looking across the many sectors that operate through the plastics value chain, there has been some common themes cited as being impacted by Covid-19: 1) product sales; 2) material, product and ingredient availability; 3) staff availability; 4) changes in consumer purchasing choices; and 5) volatile recycling markets. All sectors have put additional and necessary emphasis on health and safety precautions to protect both employees and the public.

Looking to the future, there are concerns about the availability of all physical resources, from ingredients for food and fit-for-purpose packaging, to human resources levels. As a result, it has been made clear planning and risk management strategies will need to be deployed to minimise the impact on product availability.

There is also an ever-present concern with sales, possibly including a permanent reduction in demand for certain types of products, including changes in the consumption and disposal of items away from home, product availability at point of sale and changes in attitudes and behaviours of consumers.

Meanwhile, Local Authorities across the UK reported an average increase of nearly 30% of both recycling and general waste collected from households through kerbside collection schemes. This quantity, although somewhat offset by the widespread closures of Household Waste Recycling Centres, other communal sites, and reduction of business waste collection quantities, has meant that services have had to be adjusted and prioritised. None-the-less, the majority of Local Authorities have been able to provide a scheme to households that has been, more-or-less, business as usual.

Steve Morgan, Policy & Infrastructure Manager at RECOUP said:

As the ‘new normal’ is established, there are questions for every business and the Government. The consumer has their role, which on a practical and personal level could encourage lifestyle changes and responsible consumption.

“However, there are significant commercial realities and barriers, and will these blunt the opportunity? Commercial incentives and strong commitments are needed to reduce carbon emissions and embed environmental sustainability into all areas, in addition to developing material supply chains and the waste and recycling infrastructure to underpin Circular Economy models.

“The UK now has the opportunity to reset, reposition and reclaim progress that could have already been made, and it’s an opportunity everyone can have an active role in.”

The green recovery for all sectors is only as good as the priority and drive that goes into it, and one large UK food retailer thinks there could be a change of theme, asking: “Will the current situation highlights the importance of climate change, sustainability and brings a new future where packaging and plastic is appreciated in the roles they play, and carbon use becomes more important than plastic elimination”. Will the opportunity be grasped? Time, as always, will tell.

The Covid-19 Impact Report is available to RECOUP members only. For information on RECOUP membership please contact rebecca.davis@recoup.org.

ENDS

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NOTES FOR EDITOR

RECycling of Used Plastics Limited (RECOUP) is a charity and leading authority providing expertise and guidance across the plastics recycling value chain. Built on a network of valued members, collaboration is central to its activities. RECOUP is committed to securing sustainable, circular, and practical solutions for plastic resources both in the UK and world-wide.

The RECOUP research collected and analysed information from a survey of its members to help develop a clearer understanding of the immediate, and also the longer-term impacts of Covid-19 on the UK’s plastic supply, use and waste management sectors. This included packaging manufacturers, brands and retailers, Local Authorities and Waste Management Companies, and recyclers. The survey was supplemented by responses received so far from Local Authorities from 2020 RECOUP UK Household Plastics Collection Survey and a survey from the European Association of Plastics Recycling & Recovery Organisation (EPRO) survey, which RECOUP are a member of.

For more information contact: e-mail: steve.morgan@recoup.org and tom.mcbeth@recoup.org; or visit www.recoup.org; or telephone 01733 390021.

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