The future of recycling: A question of quality

Quality versus quantity: which is more important? Many people would choose quality, and resource efficiency specialists would certainly agree, reports Material Recycling World.

A paper in the Waste Management and Research journal by Costas Velis, a Lecturer in Resource Efficiency at the University of Leeds, and Paul Brunner, the inventor of Material Flow Analysis, argues for a shift in focus from quantity of recycling to quality, which would mean the adoption of a comprehensive view of recycling rates by policymakers.

Whilst there is much recycling collected throughout Europe, a large proportion is exported to Asia rather than being processed at home. This includes several million tonnes of waste plastic, the fate of which is unclear.

The authors of the paper would like to see increased clarity in how recyclable materials are measured, with account taken of the different constituent parts within materials. They want to see innovative practices, such as “design for dismantling”, facilitating the move from an emphasis on quantity to quality.

Certification systems for recyclable material should, they state, take into account the limited number of cycles in the life of recycled material, and also what happens to such materials once they are no longer recyclable.

At Recycling Lives, we are always interested to learn about any developments in recycling, and especially when such developments come from the academic world. We are committed to seeking expert advice, and we always take notice of information that could help us to drive forward our commercial activities.

When we do, we are always mindful of our commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility. Our policies and procedures are underpinned by our desire to do the best we can for the environment, and add social value to local communities.

The work we carry out includes manufacturing processes that have come about as a result of innovation and creativity. For example, we ensure that waste plastics are converted into high quality, strong beams for the construction industry. We do a similar thing with waste glass, transforming it into tiles that provide a sustainable alternative to ceramics and synthetics.

Our commercial operations not only keep waste materials in the system rather than exporting them or sending them to landfill in the UK; they also support a social welfare charity that helps homeless and unemployed people to find work and accommodation. With the charity’s six-stage support programme, they can turn their lives around and achieve success.

We will continue to check the progress of the ideas set out in the journal article, and await with interest any comment from policymakers within the UK and the EU on how the quality angle can be developed.