As political footballs go, recycling services seem an open goal for most governments. However, the sensational headlines and ‘click-bait appeal’ often overstate the reality at play. For those with long memories, as a sector we’ve endured the likes of ‘Chips in bins to spy on households’ and a former Communities Secretary suggesting everything from rats being the exclusive result of fortnightly refuse collections to householders being flogged for leaving their bins on the kerbside after collection! At heart recycling is a personal act, a physical touchpoint between you and ‘the environment’, so whilst a government can set the framework conditions for the air, water and energy you consume – for ‘waste’ they have the ability to be very hands on. The illusion of control is stronger here. So perhaps recent announcements to solve problems that in reality didn’t exist, comes as little surprise.
In Scotland we have seen the significant ripple effects of an eleventh-hour intervention in the deposit discussion that sought to deal with a problem of alignment, and whilst the problem may have existed, it had existed for the preceding three years, making the late handbrake turn even more calamitous. This supposed course correction simply caused chaos, confusion and costs, resulting in a loss of credibility and confidence.
The more recent Prime Ministerial intervention to prevent the adoption of ‘seven bins’, has the familiar hallmarks of a solution looking for a problem to fix. Personally I’ve never stumbled across these seven deadly bins but maybe I wasn’t looking in the right place. DEFRA’s ongoing activities on consistency of recycling services, in play since 2019 are an overdue but welcomed attempt to improve efficiency in the recycling world. Efficiency of communication, coordination and infrastructure that could occur if a template for materials came to pass. As an end reprocessor of aluminium packaging materials, the means of collection has long been recognised as a pre-condition for the quality and hence efficiency of the recovery process, in our case an aluminium remelting furnace. As a value chain, that end-to-end efficiency is an integral issue that each party from householder to recycling furnace can influence.
So, let’s hope the rumours are true and that the consistency workstream has just undergone a rebrand. In which case, bring on Simpler Recycling. And that then the much-delayed Deposit Return agenda will survive the slings and arrows of the upcoming political processes in the UK. So simpler recycling sounds good for now, but more important here is to deliver actual consistency in collections – but also consistency in policy implementation. Something to hope for at least!