Manufacturers are trying to use environmentally friendly packaging but are battling against
a growing tide of regulation
A recent report by Wrap indicated that almost two thirds of adults in the UK (64%) consider themselves to be committed to recycling. Business is getting engaged, too, with British companies now investing £128m in the recycling sector a year. So it's worrying that the recycling rate for household waste in this country still stands at 31% with the majority of material being processed outside the UK. Unfortunately, manufacturers have to jump through hoops to close the loop.
Recycling is a complex issue and each sector faces its own challenges. In the case of the soft drinks industry, it is estimated that 75% of the 548,000 tonnes of plastic bottles used every year go to landfill. The collection of used bottles is key to improving recycling and yet local authorities, which are charged with this task, face targets based on weight reduction. This means heavy items such as paper, glass and food waste are prioritised and plastic goes right to the bottom of the list.
Yet recycling facilities need a constant stream of used plastic bottles (of food approved grade material) to process. Here we face the age-old chicken and egg conundrum. It doesn't make economic sense to build a recycling facility without a guaranteed source of used plastic and yet who will take charge of improving collection facilities when there is nowhere to deliver the used products to?
Our packaging supplier Artenius faced this dilemma a few years ago. Willing to invest in a facility, it found it would have had to ship used bottles over from mainland Europe. There is a desperate shortage of recycled plastic, as we discovered when establishing a sustainable supply for our ready-to-drink Ribena bottles, which were the first in the UK drinks industry to be made from 100%-recycled plastic. The problem is compounded by external regulatory pressures. Manufacturers are trying to use eco-friendly packaging and yet we are battling against a growing tide of regulation.
The recycling issue can only be solved by businesses working together to create achievable solutions.
In the short term, we must get the whole industry aligned on all the key issues. Are we for or against the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) for example? Should we outlaw the use of the compostible plastic, Polylactic acid (PLA), to protect our recycling chain? We can only effectively tackle the challenges we face once these types of questions are answered.
In the longer term, we must start 'future proofing' packs so that when the recycling infrastructure is in place we can process plastic cost-effectively - for instance, by making plastic packaging without dyes and colours so that it does not contaminate the PET resin that is produced during the process.
As 70% of our products are now consumed out of home, we also need to work together to give consumers more opportunities to recycle when they are out and about. This is essential if we are to get more raw material from soft drink bottles into the system.
We are working in partnership with recycling charity Recoup on a trial that brings recycling facilities on to the high street so consumers can recycle used plastic bottles. There's no one simple solution. Tackling recycling will require a host of innovative solutions. The industry, government and consumers must all play a part.n
Graham Neale is the general manager of GlaxoSmithKline Nutritional Healthcare, makers of Horlicks, Lucozade and Ribena