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Keep calm and carry on - recycling!

It’s always important to remind ourselves why we should be recycling - and it feels to me like there’s never been a more important time to ensure our motivation to recycle as much as we can remains steadfast.

Iain Gulland | 8 Aug 18

We’ve all been riding high upon the tidal swell of a stark awakening in public consciousness since Blue Planet II aired on our TV screens.  This has seen some significant, well-intended commitments being made by Scottish and UK Governments, manufacturers and major retailers – a further escalation in efforts to tackle environmental issues created from the way we use plastic and manage plastic waste. 

The benefits to the planet, and to all of us, of recycling as much as we can, are not in doubt, and continually promoted – not least by Zero Waste Scotland. Our most recent Carbon Metric showed that recycling at home was one of the key actions Scots could take in the fight against climate change. If Scottish households recycled just 10% more of their waste, we would save over 148 thousand tonnes of CO2e, the equivalent of over 22,000 flights around the world. In the case of plastics, recycling is especially beneficial in terms of climate change and conserving precious natural resources.

It’s also seen many of us – as individuals – ask ourselves ‘what more can I do?’  And crucially, continuing to recycle as much as we can is a hugely significant yet relatively simple commitment we can all make.     

Recently however, we’ve also seen headline-grabbing news outlining some of the challenges faced in the current recycling system.  Just last weekend, for example, it was well-reported that up to two thirds of plastic pots collected by local authorities in England are incinerated or landfilled, rather than recycled.  Other documented issues include the recycling challenges of packaging made from composite materials and black plastic trays. 

I, for one, welcome all contributions on matters relating to how recycling performance can be improved.  The more people talking about it; the more chance we have raise awareness of the importance and moral imperative to continue to strive to do more; to do it better; and to do it faster. 

Improved recycling is a fundamental part of our pursuit of a circular economy for Scotland – something we can only achieve by all working together to change our current ways of life, which are designed around linear consumption. 

In relative terms, our recycling systems are still developmental – and ripe for improvement and innovation.  There’s no denying that significant challenges remain to be overcome.  This includes changing everything from how we design products and packaging to allow for recycling at end-of life to how we manage the things we no longer want.

Particular to recycling, one challenge is that it’s getting more difficult to find markets for poor quality recyclate.  To address this, we need to recycle in ways that allow for materials to be collected which are more easily suited to reprocessing. 

Particular to plastic, another challenge is that not all types of plastic can readily be recycled. 

In Scotland, we are actively pursuing solutions to these challenges.

One of the best examples to herald here is the Scottish Government’s bold leadership in committing to introduce a national deposit return scheme for Scotland.  As well as reducing litter and generating economic benefits for Scotland, this initiative has huge potential to increase the amount of drinks containers we recycle –and do so in a way that improves the quality of the recyclate being collected.    

Looking at those plastic types which can’t currently be recycled, Scotland is trail-blazing a world-first breakthrough in our investment with Project Beacon – a project to install innovative new technology in Scotland which could provide a solution for hard-to-recycle plastics such as kids’ toys and garden furniture.

The Scottish Government is also working with industry, via the UK Plastics Pact, to improve the recyclability of plastic packaging and encourage the use of more recycled plastic in the production of packaging, which helps foster a healthy and profitable market for recycled plastics.

Furthermore, the EU and Scottish Government have published ambitions to increase the use of recycled content, design plastic for improved recyclability and take steps to reduce the production of non-recyclable (or hard to recycle) plastic types found currently in packaging.

Though non-recyclable and hard-to-recycle plastics do exist, it’s important to remember that the majority of plastics in our households can be recycled at home. The Scottish Household Waste Charter (established 2015), which almost all local authorities are signed up to, sets out clearly the kinds of plastics that can be recycled and those plastics are being sent for recycling by Scottish local authorities.  

In the face of certain challenges, it’s important that we don’t lose faith – or our certainty that recycling is worthwhile and categorically the right thing to do. 

In order to keep up the momentum of progress, innovation, and staunch commitments we’ve seen emerge over the last few months – to keep consumer demand for change at an all-time high – it’s vital that each and everyone one of us stays the course and continues to recycle.

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