Dear Prime Minister,
I am a social entrepreneur devoting my UK business to leading on ocean plastic prevention and quality recycling efforts. It was a major surprise to hear you say that recycling plastic “doesn’t work”.
As the former chair of the UK and Europe’s main plastic recycling conference (ICIS 2017) and the recycled material supplier for Prevented Ocean Plastic, I would like to inform you that recycling can work at meaningful scale and protect our marine life and oceans in the process.
It is absolutely true that there are significant challenges, many of which stem from a fundamental error in perception of what recycling actually is.
Recycling is not the act of putting plastic in a recycling bin. Sadly, only a small proportion of plastic that is put in a recycling bin is dealt with properly; the majority is sent ‘out of sight out of mind’ to poorer nations. Proper infrastructure and systems must be in place for recycling to work effectively.
Recycling is about a circular economy. We must collect and clean up what is in our natural environment and bring these materials back into use through recycled products. They must be clearly labelled and offered to consumers as a better, lower greenhouse gas emission choice. This is also a better social choice as there is currently more than $100 billion dollars’ worth of plastic lying on the ground globally for people to collect and exchange for money.
This collection and clean-up effort only happens if we are willing to support and buy the collected material back. We know consumers want to help tackle the climate emergency and will prefer products that are made from recycled packaging, cutting carbon emissions, and protecting our natural environment.
Recycling is about what you buy and bring into your home, more than what you put in your bin. Why? The details of the answer may upset you Prime Minister, as it will most people reading this letter.
Over the past decade, no major top global brand has used more than 10 per cent recycled plastic in their products. This comes down to a fraction of a penny of cost savings per product they sell. To put that in context, to produce from recycled plastic is around one tenth of a penny more expensive per plastic bottle or pack than when produced from new plastic. That small cost saving is equal to one thousandth of the cost of a one Pound Sterling item.
With all my heart and experience I want to state clearly that ‘a fraction of a penny’ is the central reason recycling and plastic collectors in developing countries struggle. This need not be the case. The circular economy can work if we combine the actions of progressive businesses with consumer behaviour to ‘Choose Recycled’.
The thousands of products in the supermarkets that we don’t think about on a daily basis, from home cleaning products to personal care items and the packing of our food, can all be in recycled materials.
You have a central role in making recycling work. Along with consumers, the government plays an incredibly important role in keeping big brands honest and protecting our natural environment. In April 2022, a new regulation is coming to pass in the UK that will require a minimum of 30% recycled content in plastic packaging. This will immediately force major companies to more than triple their purchasing of recycled plastics. I am sure big business is pressing you to delay these policies so they can keep on doing the same, I implore you not to waiver.
We invite you and the decision makers on your team to our Prevented Ocean Plastic Research Centre on Richmond Green in London to see for yourself what ocean plastic prevention can achieve.
With COP26 upon us, we urgently need to accelerate proven solutions, champion the progressive businesses who are making changes and enable consumers to make better purchasing decisions.
It’s time to choose recycled.
Founder and Director of Bantam Materials UK, the supplier of Prevented Ocean Plastic