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Recycling rates are down, so what’s the solution?

Michelle Norman, Director of Sustainability | Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I

4 min read Partner content

We mark Global Recycling Day today with a more eco-conscious British public than ever before. And yet, the latest data shows that recycling rates are plateauing.

England’s household recycling rates have barely increased over 1% the past five years and Wales – which has one of the highest recycling rates in the world – has just recorded a reduction of 3% vs the same quarter the year before. So, what’s the solution?

As part of Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I’s “Growing for Good” vision, we are committed to using more sustainable packaging, eliminating unrecyclable and excessive packaging from our supply chain and collaborating with innovative partners to look at new ways to manage plastic waste.

By 2030 we plan to have fully moved away from virgin plastic, only using plastic that has come through a recycling process. In the past year, Ribena has become the UK’s largest soft drinks brand to use bottles made from 100% recycled material and are 100% bottle-to-bottle recyclable. And we’re delighted that the new bottle has been the first ever to achieve ‘CLASS A’ RecyClass certification by RECOUP – the national charity developing plastics recycling in the UK.

It’s a model we plan to replicate across our other big brands, Lucozade Energy and Lucozade Sport. And it has the added benefit of reducing the amount of plastic produced per year too, contributing to the 3,149 tonnes we have already saved since 2015. These savings have been delivered by a complete rethink of our packaging and supply chains, including being the first major juice drinks brand in the UK to introduce paper straws.

We know that action from manufacturers is only part of the solution. We need the necessary collection and recycling infrastructure as well if we are to truly deliver a circular economy and boost recycling rates.

Unfortunately, there has been an historic under-investment in both. That’s why we support governments’ resources and waste strategies. Reforming Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), and ensuring consistent household collections across all local authorities in GB (as is currently the case in Wales), will help to ensure better collection and increase recycling rates. This will boost the domestic availability of recycled material, and better enable manufacturers to ensure their products are made from 100% recycled material.

We rapidly need to target on-the-go recycling rates too. Only 42% of local authorities across the UK provide on-the-go recycling facilities, so we need more recycling bins on the high street and manufacturers need to continue to promote responsible disposal of their packaging. For drinks containers such as our plastic bottles and cans, the long-term solution will be Deposit Return Schemes.

We recently announced we are a founding member of Circularity Scotland Limited – a company bidding to be the administrator for Scotland’s DRS launching in July 2022 – with an ambition to increase collection rates to 90%. Of course, our hope is that the schemes planned for GB will also help the whole of society, not just our consumers, reflect and review how they think of ‘waste’ and appreciate the inherent value locked within.

That’s not to say that we agree with all of the planned reforms. For instance, we believe the Plastics Packaging Tax is currently a missed opportunity as the revenue it generates will not be ring-fenced. This money could be vital in kick-starting the reinvestment needed in our recycling and collection infrastructures and ensure the changes can begin before EPR and DRS are fully implemented. Indeed, with rumours circulating that EPR reform and DRS are going to be delayed due to the pandemic, it’s becoming increasingly urgent in our view that the Plastic Packaging Tax revenue is ring-fenced for the circular economy.

In 2021, UK households are expected to throw away more than 26m tonnes of rubbish, less than half of which will be recycled. This Global Recycling Day, we must examine what more we can be doing to combat this statistic, and deliver the circular economy we want and the environment needs.

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