Does the UK circular economy exist?
Yes, but it exists in patches throughout the UK. It does not exist like the financial economy, where everything is joined up because we have a central currency flowing between business, financial institutions and households. For the circular economy, the materials that make up the products we rely on each day function as a currency of sorts. For it to flow properly we need consistently reusable and recyclable packaging which are manageable within our existing infrastructure. This will create a solid foundation to attract well needed investment as outlined in Biffa’s Blueprint for Waste Net Zero.
In the waste and recycling industry we use the term ‘closed loop recycling’. A closed loop is where the recycling and reuse of a used product supplies the material used to create a new version of the same product. In the cases where we have closed loop systems, we have higher quality recyclate streams going into sorting and processing facilities, this uses less energy and resources to sort, clean and can then be transformed into new products. The objective is to keep expanding these ‘closed-loop’ systems while continuously evolving regulations, measurement and reporting of how waste is collected, transported and recycled.
What is an example of a closed loop system ?
British milk bottles. Many people would have noticed the evolution of milk packaging over the years. This is the result of continuously improving packaging, so a used milk bottle supplies the material used to create a new one. Biffa brought together the dairies, retailers and government agencies to align on the most sustainable packaging to create a system for milk bottle recycling; collecting used milk containers, processing them into HDPE pellets and returning them to manufacturers.
Working together, we have continuously improved packaging and processing. Now even the new clear lids can be recycled with the bottles, ensuring minimal waste. 85% of British milk bottles contain HDPE which has been recycled by Biffa Polymers using empty milk bottles collected from households. Currently typical recycled content of these bottles is about 30% - but there is no reason it can’t be up to 50%.