As 2020 draws toward an end there are many for whom this cannot come quickly enough. Whilst I don’t want to prolong the ‘agony’ that the Covid pandemic has brought to all our lives, it is always instructive to reflect on the experience and learn for the future. So, what has 2020 taught us about the resources sector… That we are agile, adaptable and possess considerable resilience. More specifically for example the Novelis Warrington can-to-can recycling plant remained fully operational throughout 2020, adapting to, and in some case informing on, Government best practice on Covid-secure workplaces where Novelis factories in China, Korea and Italy were able to offer their own early insights from experience. The concepts of key workers and circular supply chains were given real meaning when local authority and private sector recycling & refuse teams were rightly recognised as providing essential services during a time of national crisis. In addition, on the reprocessing side Governments and Regulators saw that the free movement of secondary materials were essential to maintain the circular systems that remanufacture many of these materials back into food, drink or pharmaceutical packaging.
I think 2020 has also shown us that without all the distractions of ‘modern society’, the UK population are in fact very good recyclers. Whilst the jury is still out on the data, it looks likely that 2020 will see record household recycling levels, fueled by record lockdown domestic consumption. Again, within the aluminium sector, aluminium can consumption has increased and aluminium PRN volumes (a yardstick for recycling measurement) look to have exceeded the target level by the end of quarter three. So, much to be proud of, but I suspect even the deepest of green activists will not be making a case for 2020 as a template for sustainable consumption and recycling!
Therefore, whilst we recognise that this year has been unprecedented, once in a lifetime (hopefully) – what do we have to look forward to and how do we ‘Recycle back better’ for the future. Well that well-worn metaphor of ‘not doing what you did yesterday and expecting a different result’ comes to mind, and luckily, for 2021 and beyond there is a lot to look forward to that will bring change. Throughout the UK, the policy pieces on the table of our regulators include Extended Producer Responsibility, Deposit Return Schemes, Collections Consistency, Plastic Packaging tax and more. In making a coherent framework from these pieces, let’s be ambitious and really grasp the opportunity to make significant advances. If nothing else, our enforced time at home has seen the enthusiasm/impatience for meaningful progress on the environmental agenda ratchet up a level.
So that’s it for the ‘twenty-twenty hindsight’. With much to look forward to let’s hope we can safely transition from Annus Horribilis to Annus Mirablis in the blink of an eye. Breeze through Brexit, Build Back Better, Recycle Back Better and be proud and competent hosts of the COP26 global climate conference in Glasgow this time next year. After all, optimism costs nothing.