Open Door Policy

Paul Vanston, the Industry Council for Research on Packaging & the Environment’s (INCPEN) CEO designate, says he’ll be working towards “win-win” situations when he takes the reigns of INCPEN in May.  

Stephen R. Covey’s wise words come to mind: “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”

In that spirit, my approach from 22 May will be the same as it has been for many years. I want to work with people who are interested in achieving “win win” situations (another of Covey’s mantras). Collaborative working, especially between people who disagree, can be very hard work.

The fruits of our endeavours make that effort worthwhile – and, my goodness, there is no shortage of issues across the resource sector value chain where meaningful collaboration is needed to change our collective situations for the better.

Big Picture 

The UK’s exit from the EU is serious and has important implications. Equally, the UK has a mass of fundamental long-term issues that need to be addressed, perhaps even more importantly and urgently with Brexit upon us.

These include educational achievement and skills; productivity; significant variations regionally in wealth (and labour availability); matched by generational inequalities whereby many young people are finding life very challenging indeed. So, our industry will, as we must, give serious consideration and extensive effort towards the smoothest possible Brexit landing.

However, we must also see to it that the fundamental issues above, and our contributions towards solutions, receive significant attention too. Meaningful collaboration across a range of organisations, including INCPEN, is essential.

Waste Hierarchy 

The need to make issues tangible has seemingly led to discussions and initiatives going forward in those awful silos we were meant to avoid. One meeting is about waste reduction, the next about recycling, another about reuse, a few more about individual materials – and often these issues are not joined up.

“The publication of the Litter Strategy is welcomed. Across the UK we’ve spent many decades putting money into campaigns to try to encourage the ‘minority’ of litterbugs to put their own items in the bin, if that wouldn’t be too much trouble for them.”

On so many occasions we’ve put one aspect of the waste hierarchy on a pedestal, often at the expense of other aspects higher up the very same hierarchy. My point? We need to reinforce our examinations of solutions based on whole life cycle assessments. This includes seeing products and their packaging together, not as if they are independent of each other.

The overall pros and cons of solutions may mean trade-offs in the real world. For example, recyclability is a very important consideration. But if recyclability is the only facet of the waste hierarchy that is addressed, it is likely society will fail to apply the waste hierarchy as a whole, including waste prevention, and that can’t be right.

Litter 

The publication of the Litter Strategy is welcomed. Across the UK we’ve spent many decades putting money into campaigns to try to encourage the ‘minority’ of litterbugs to put their own items in the bin, if that wouldn’t be too much trouble for them.

I suspect the patience of many of us is wearing thin. There are simply no excuses. Whether an item is littered is no fault of the product itself, the council, the lack of a bin – and producing litter is not “what I pay my council tax for”, nor is it a litterbug’s valid contribution to “creating jobs for people who want to pick my litter up”.

On behalf of INCPEN I shall be doing my bit to work with Defra and industry colleagues to help the new Strategy deliver results. In the meantime, #NoExcuses and #PersonalResponsibility may feature quite regularly on my twitter messages.

Deposit Return Systems 

Roseanna Cunningham, Scottish Environment Minister was right, in my view, to outline a raft of issues that would need to be considered before any deposit return system could be given an amber light to be trialled. I also note LARAC’s views about the current lobbying to implement competing systems for the capture of valuable plastic bottles.

As councils have invested so heavily in recycling services over the last 20 years, I can understand why LARAC is raising concerns about the negative impacts of deposit return systems. Similarly, the Association of Convenience Stores has concerns of its own that warrant attention.

I understand those views. Efforts may be best directed at getting behind councils’ recycling services; supporting kerbside improvement programmes within each of the home nations such as the Scottish Charter for Household Recycling; and supporting the RecycleNow campaign to capture more recyclates.

Consideration of deposit return systems should not detract from this vital work, and would have to prove how any system would not add costs, create inefficiencies, nor undermine councils.

In any case, every household has an existing deposit return system just a few feet from their lounge sofas – deposit the item in the recycling bin, and return it to the council. Simple, convenient, and cost effective.

Extended Producer Responsibility 

Lastly, for this article, I want to say I understand the calls for producers to put more money into household recycling services. Councils have had a hard time and continue to experience cuts upon cuts. It hasn’t been easy.

For my part, I am willing to hear concerns and ideas. The UK’s systems have worked well in helping to achieve higher levels of recycling but may need some amendment to deliver higher performance. My door is open.

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