There are far more seasoned professionals than I still to comment, but it does seem like we are on the cusp of some significant changes in the UK resources industry. As I write this, many LARAC members and countless others will be pondering over the intricacies of the English government’s interlocked consultations on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) proposals and the Consistency in Household and Business Recycling Collections. There’s incremental change and instrumental change, and this looks set to herald the latter.
Back in the last century, fully embraced by the European Union the United Kingdom still somehow managed to concoct a unique solution to a common issue – the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive. And the ‘PRN System’ was born. In doing so local authorities were effectively disenfranchised from the system in which they were the vital first cog as collectors or commissioners of collection services. Without detailing the significant successes of the UK packaging recovery system, the missed opportunities are plain to see. Implementation of the same regulations within other Member States coalesced around identifying a common set of materials, a standardized (if not centralized) suite of collection methods that in turn allowed a nationwide communication campaign to drive adoption.
As stated, the PRN system has an impressive track record, but I can’t help but speculate on the outcomes today, in terms of public engagement and recycling rate, if the UK had adopted a similar approach to our continental brethren. Of course, many of the current proposals under consultation today lead more directly towards delivering the commonality, consistency and communication that are deemed to be the successful components of a high-performing packaging recovery system.
As a material reprocessor, Novelis has ‘skin in the game’ by whatever method materials are recovered from consumers. And from a purely materials perspective, new EPR or DRS proposals both look to offer a positive improvement in distributing value amongst other partners in the value chain. No longer does the packaging material or product that commands a high value at point of sale, bypass the collectors without some recompense, be it a returned 20p per aluminium can paid to the consumer under a DRS, or a fully reimbursed collection cost paid to the local authority within EPR. However, a lot will need to change in the next few years for that to become a reality – its instrumental not incremental remember. As a global aluminium company, we are heavily invested in circularity and whilst we are proud of the UK aluminium can recycling rate (82% in 2020 click here [alupro.org.uk]), we know we can and must do more. The same is true for other materials, whilst we may ‘compete’ at some level, circularity and sustainability are joint endeavours that society expects us to work together to solve.
So changes will come and after tireless campaigning for full recognition of the role played by local authorities, will the full net cost model hail a slow but sure shuffling from centre stage as whoever ‘pays the piper, calls the tune’. So if this is the beginning of the end, or end of the beginning, the question remains……of what?