Consumers and businesses are being prevented from recycling effectively by the lack of a cohesive approach to handing waste by local authorities and waste recyclers, according to work by the British Sandwich and Food to Go Association.
The UK already has capacity to recycle a high percentage of the paper cups used for drinks but is currently handling a fraction of this volume, largely because there is no structured way for collecting it.
Consumers are also confused about where to throw food packaging because there is no clarity in terms of collection and waste handling.
Until a joined-up collection system is put in place, it says, this is not going to be resolved.
The Association is calling for the Government to lead in challenging the waste industry to clean up its act by:
- Introducing a national recycling standard whereby local authorities all operate the same systems for waste collection, including a standard national colour coding system for bins;
- The introduction of an on-pack colour coding system, linked to the bin colours, which is universally applied to all packs so that consumers can easily understand where to throw their waste packaging;
- The introduction of a fair national levy – applicable to all packaging – to support funding of standardised recycling systems nationally and the education of consumers about recycling.
Without these actions, any attempt by the industry to increase recycling levels is likely to be doomed, according to Jim Winship, director of the British Sandwich & Food To Go Association.
“While the industry supports recent initiatives by the Mayor of London and the Government to reduce packaging waste, particularly in the food industry, the lack of consistency in packaging disposal makes it almost impossible to move forward.
“Almost all food-to-go packaging is carried out of shops for consumption elsewhere and most of this is disposed of randomly, making it very difficult for recycling. Even where packs are fully recyclable, more often than not they never get recycled as they should be because of disparate waste collection systems. Furthermore, there is ample evidence to show that consumers are confused about what can and cannot be recycled.
“All it would take would be a standardised national colour coding and collection system and many of these problems could be resolved. Packaging could then carry the same colour coding making it clear to consumers exactly where packs should be disposed of.
“This would also influence change among retailers and suppliers as it would make it obvious which packaging was bad and encourage change.”
Under current proposals from both the Mayor of London and the Government, the focus is all on the manufacturers of packaging and retailers, with even talk of a 25p surcharge on coffee cups to address the problem.
“While a tax may boost Treasury income, it will do nothing to resolve the issues that are blocking recycling,” says Winship. “What is needed is a levy covering all types of packaging, not just food packs, which should be ring-fenced for investment in recycling.
“We also need a transparent system where consumers can clearly see which types of packaging are the most recyclable – they will then put pressure on retailers and the packaging industry to drive change.
“Furthermore, we could do with support from the waste collection industry in terms of guidance on the most appropriate types of packaging for recycling as many in the industry struggle to understand the complexities of the materials being used. For example, materials claiming to be ‘compostable’ are often seen as an ideal solution yet this is only so if they are disposed of through a compostable waste system
“Campaigns like the Evening Standard’s ‘Last Straw’ initiative to eradicate plastic straws are a great start but to make a real difference we need a robust recycling system that people understand and that makes sure packaging ends up in the right place where it can be handled.”