Closing The Loop In The Circular Economy

Alison Cook, associate director, regulatory support team at Wardell Armstrong asks why aren’t we seeing more products on the market badged as recycled – a visible sign that we are closing the loop in the Circular Economy?

I’m feeling virtuous as I sit writing this because I am wearing a shirt made from recycled polyester. Bought new, it was labelled as being made from 100% post-consumer waste. It looks ok and seems to have come through the washing machine unscathed.

However, it got me thinking, why aren’t we seeing more products on the market badged as recycled? A visible sign that we are closing the loop in the Circular Economy.

Again, this week I was stopped by someone who knows I work in the Waste Industry with the complaint: “I sort everything for recycling and then it all goes in the same truck with my general waste”. The general public want to know that their waste is genuinely being recycled.  Wouldn’t it be nice to see your old textiles and plastics leave the house and know that they were being made into something useful because you could buy recycled products on the High Street?

With the current “Blue Planet effect” putting management of plastics so firmly in the news and people genuinely concerned about plastics in our oceans, isn’t there an opportunity for high street brands to boost their green credentials by promoting recycled products?

If we are to drive up recycling rates and recyclate quality we need the public to know that their efforts are worthwhile, that their sorted and rinsed bottles or clean textiles are not simply ending up at the nearest energy from waste plant but are being made into something worthwhile.

A quick scan of the web sites of some of big high street names shows that they are concerned about sustainability. They talk about ethically sourced products and describe their efforts to send less waste to landfill. Some of them collect old clothes from customers for recycling. Some of them are increasing the recycled content of their packaging.  However, I could find very few who claim to put recycled materials back into their products.

If we are to drive up recycling rates and recyclate quality we need the public to know that their efforts are worthwhile, that their sorted and rinsed bottles or clean textiles are not simply ending up at the nearest energy from waste plant but are being made into something worthwhile. They will know that is happening when they see recycled products in the shops.

The technology isn’t new. It was many years ago that we saw an exhibition about recycling. A few days later, when our waste was next collected, my then 3-year-old son yelled: “Look Mum, the Biffa man [they had the collection contract at the time] has come to make our bottles into fleeces.” He is now in his late teens but it seems that there are still only a few smaller “green” companies promoting these products. Maybe it is time for them to move into the main stream.

On their website, Dgrade claim that their process for turning plastic bottles into new polyester fibres uses 50% less energy and 20% less water than making virgin polyester from scratch, making the carbon footprint and impact on the environment considerably smaller. So why aren’t more people using recycled fibre to make their products?

Maybe it is down to availability, due to the quality of plastic that is collected not being up to the job. However, I would refer to my comment above. If we are going to engage the public to do more and get closer to the Circular Economy model, we need to tackle all parts of the circle.

Promoting recycled products might allow customers to see it is worthwhile taking a little more trouble with their waste. Maybe seeing quality recycled products in the shops will be an incentive for people to be more diligent in their sorting because they can see the results.

We hear so much about reducing waste to landfill, about businesses recycling their waste, but to make progress we need to tackle the outputs as well as the inputs and promote markets for recycled materials as well. Can the big retailers, take up the challenge and put this missing piece in the circle?


 

Got something to say about this story?