The RECOUP Plastics Resource & Recycling Conference organised by plastics resource efficiency and recycling charity RECOUP was held for the tenth year running at KingsGate Conference Centre in Peterborough.

Sponsored by Berry bpi, Tomra, Schoeller Allibert Services, Plastics Europe, Beyondly, BPF, IOM3 and Circular&Co, attendees included around 400 people from across various educational institutions, waste and recycling companies, packaging producers, environmental consultants and government bodies.

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Tom Heap of ‘Costing the Earth’ and BBC’s ‘Countryfile’ directed the day’s debates and dialogues about the right material, the right place and the right approach in plastics recycling, as well as exploring innovations in the industry.

The panel debated how the whole value chain should work together to make the process more efficient with Plastics Europe UK country head Dr Geoff Mackay, raising the point that “we only have one world. We need to think about the materials we use and how we use them.”

Yet the abundance of constantly changing legislation, company strategy, environmental impact and consumer views that we all have to navigate makes this task a lot more complicated than it perhaps needs to be. As commented by Veolia director of sustainable technology Tim Duret: “There has been so much time spent on the how and we still don’t have the what.” 

Items such as vapes and coffee pods were discussed by the panel as an example of such an issue, with the general consensus being that we should all work together to ensure that before products are placed on the market, a stream is in place for consumers to correctly recycle those products when they come to the end of their life.

This year RECOUP tried to put this into practice by avoiding single-use plastic where possible at its conference, putting Circular&Co’s returnable cup scheme in place of single-use cups.

The panel also debated how environmentally educated we are, referring to how conscious we are when buying goods. We can see that the public is undoubtedly much more conscious of environmental issues and in favour of change.

However, the Co-op packaging manager Robert Thompson commented that “a family with little money and five kids to feed are less likely to be environmentally conscious,” reiterating the need to make reuse, recovery and recycling easy and accessible. This line of argument was also recently echoed at a heated panel debate at London Packaging Week.

For another year running attention then turned to the lack of consistency in kerbside plastics collections and communications as well as UK recycling capacity, calling for a simpler process that the public and the whole value chain will be engaged with and participate in.

Ultimately, the use of plastics needs to be done in the right way, with appropriate end-of-life solutions in place before a product is available on the market.

RECOUP recently collaborated with County Durham on a plastics recycling communications and education project to push for a broader scale of change in the UK.