Mattress example shows we mustn’t sleep on the job

The other week I was fascinated by the news from the US state of Connecticut about a new producer responsibility deal on mattresses which was heralded as the world’s first.

Written By Iain Gulland - Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland  |  11 Jun 13

 What fascinated me most was that the process to develop the scheme involved all parties coming together: the mattress manufacturing industry, the retailers, the government (both federal and local), the NGOs and so on, in creating a solution which would not only solve a problematic waste stream and protect the environment it would also create local collection infrastructure, local reprocessing and local jobs.

It all sounded fairly sensible. A levy on the sale of a new mattress has been carefully worked out to ensure that the money raised will cover the cost of collection and reprocessing once it has seen better days. What the Connecticut collaboration has designed is a transparent and ‘shared system’ to deliver wider economic, social and environmental benefits.

All of which resonated with me at the glass supply chain round table meeting we held in Edinburgh last week. The focus of this meeting was to get all of the interested parties thinking through the potential for increasing the amount of glass being recycled and ensuring more of the cullet collected makes its way into the remelt industry here in Scotland. Like the supply chain in Connecticut it was about developing a shared approach where there would be wins for all the various players involved.

As I have blogged before – the current ‘system’ for glass in Scotland isn’t working too well and much of the glass collected ends up in lower value applications both in Scotland and elsewhere contrary to our Zero Waste and Circular Economy ambitions. Much was said at the meeting of the disparity between the value and quality of the raw material – cullet – and the cost of collecting it the right way – source separated.  

An obvious answer to this disparity could be the introduction of a ‘levy’ which could help bridge this cost gap. This rang a bell with me when I remembered the early developments in the 1990’s on the then proposed ‘Packaging Recovery Notes’ system for packaging in the UK. The aim was the value of the PRN should fund the gap between the cost of recycling and the cost of using raw materials and thereby the mechanism would level the playing field and increase the uptake of materials for recycling.

The fact that the PRN system has evolved into something quite different from what we all thought it would be is beyond me. It’s clearly a system to demonstrate compliance against targets rather than relate specifically to the cost realties on the ground for collectors and reprocessors. This does not deliver a closed-loop approach. The mattress example from the US shows us how a system can be developed for local jobs, investment and collection support. This is what we should be doing here.

The current PRN system, and in a similar vein, the WEEE compliance system, need to be revised and adapted to better align to our waste and economic policies. This is critical if we are to achieve the ambitions in Scotland’s Zero Waste Plan. We can’t be complacent. The aims and solutions are not about trying to extract more money from producers, it’s about designing a system which directly supports and encourages collections and reprocessing infrastructure here in Scotland.

What we need is an open discussion about how we might evolve the current system to meet our new outcomes. Current vested interests should not get in the way of the many shared interests in our future. With the pressures on spending now beginning to take root, we need any available funds working together in an open and transparent manner. We need to be able to say where the £90M or so raised in PRN revenues in the UK has gone and what impact it has had.

What those involved in Connecticut have devised is a system to fund and support shared outcomes across the supply chain. There’s no real reason why we can’t do this here. Being a small dynamic country means that we can easily get everyone in the supply chain in the same room.  Last week’s meeting in Edinburgh showed how this can be done. The next step is getting everybody working together for a common goal - a Shared Economy where everybody wins.

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