How to solve the problem of recycling plastic

As we tucked into our turkey dinners and sweets over the Christmas and New Year break we woke up to news that China is introducing new curbs on the import of foreign waste, including plastic.  For those of us who work daily in recycling this does not come as a surprise but it will have massive implications for recycling across Ireland and the UK.  The recycling industry is structured in a way that means that materials are often transported half way round the world to be reprocessed. It is even more striking at this time of year as we traditionally generate more waste during the Christmas period.  January is our busiest month for recycling, with a 25% increase in tonnes collected.

We believe the industry as a whole is missing an opportunity to recycle locally.  At Bryson Recycling we have a clear focus on unlocking the economic potential of recycling by delivering high quality recyclables to local remanufacturers. Our approach not only benefits the environment, by reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill, but the economy too. In a study funded by Invest Northern Ireland, we calculated that recycling materials in Northern Ireland adds approximately £115m per year through added value to the local economy.  This is derived from just three Northern Irish based reprocessors who recycle paper, plastic bottles and glass jars and bottles.  Between them they employ 750 people and have capacity to grow.

Sustaining and growing this industry can only happen if materials are collected in the right way so that their quality is maintained. In order to do this Bryson Recycling has brought two innovative new kerbside recycling products to the marketplace, the Kerb-Sort vehicle and the Wheelie Box container. There are now 250,000 Wheelie Boxes in use in the UK, including 20,000 across Northern Ireland, and over 400 Kerbsort vehicles, 40 of which are used here in Northern Ireland. Our model is helping to change the face of recycling and will help local council partners achieve recycling rates of around 60%, but there is more that can be done.

To answer my original question, How do we solve the problem of recycling plastics:

  • we need to start a bit further up the line, by reducing the amount of plastic that we use in the first place, particularly single use items. Some easy steps we can all take include not buying bottles of water, bringing your own reusable cup to the coffee shop and avoiding disposable items such as razors and straws.
  • next, we need to look at product design, by simplifying plastic items to ensure they be more easily recycled.
  • In terms of recycling the plastics that are produced, we believe we have a solution to the problem right here on our doorstep.  We have proved that it works and we have found local markets – what we need is policy decisions that maximise the economic opportunity of recycling.  We need to see the implementation of a ‘blueprint’ recycling collection model that encourages householders to recycle more and ensure the collection of high quality materials which will provide the best economic, environmental and social outcomes for Northern Ireland and the wider UK.   

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Blog written by Director of Bryson Recycling, Eric Randall

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