Recycling official hits back at industry critics

Comments made by outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson almost a year ago are still being branded as unnecessary by a plastics recycling official in that country.

Philippe von Stauffenberg, CEO and Founder of Greenback Recycling Technologies, remarks: “A great example of harmful and unnecessary comments is the Prime Minister’s statement that ‘recycling doesn’t work’, when in fact the biggest hurdle is that investment in recycling infrastructure has not been available in Britain for the past 20 years – especially compared to most EU countries. Rhetoric like this only encourages the public to think twice about recycling their waste, so it can be a damaging stance to take.

The CEO says the recycling industry must warn of the dangers of “only telling half the story of recycling”. Although Johnson’s comments date back almost a year, von Stauffenberg says he senses “growing rhetoric” suggesting that recycling “doesn’t work”, pointing to a recent article in The Express UK newspaper

According to Greenback, that article called plastic recycling “absurdity,” what the company calls “a sweeping statement is not only short-sighted, but ends up causing more harm than good, particularly in terms of is about breakthrough recycling technologies developed in the UK”

Greenback and von Stauffenberg see themselves as part of this tech development scene. “Britain is a hotbed of new technologies that are making a significant contribution to solving the problem of plastic pollution,” says the CEO.

Continues von Stauffenberg, “Precisely because in the past there has been significant underinvestment in recycling technologies and insufficient funding for extended producer responsibility schemes in the UK, there is no industry entrenched waste management championing an unsustainable status quo. In fact, there is now a thriving start-up scene with technologies that bring fresh thinking to many links in the recycling value chain. These range from new compostable plastic materials and advanced plastic recycling using enzymes to technologies enabling full transparency and traceability using blockchain. “

While touting the progress, von Stauffenberg adds: “Comments like the Prime Minister’s put one of the industry’s most needed and innovative sectors at risk. Britain is a leader in recycling innovation and could be a role model for many countries that have also significantly under-invested in the past.

He continues: “Anti-plastic or anti-recycling rhetoric really only tells half the story and treats plastic packaging as if it were a singular problem to be solved. It not only ignores the role of plastic packaging in ensuring food safety and sustainability and reducing food waste, but also that it is the cheapest and most environmentally friendly material if it is collected and processed correctly.

Greenback, which is building a recycling plant in Mexico in cooperation with Nestlé, describes itself as developing a decentralized network of innovative recycling facilities, located close to waste sources. The company’s model uses small-scale factories to convert often difficult-to-recycle flexible packaging into “pyrolysis oil” which it says can be used as a recycled-content feedstock for food-grade packaging.

According to von Stauffenberg, “Plastics are rarely the bad guys they’re made out to be, but people often are. Given its high price, in addition to recycling the plastic into pyrolysis oil (a material identical to the fossil raw material), we must ensure that we can prove that it is indeed made from used plastic packaging , otherwise people will profit from mixing it with fossil oil and selling it as “recycled”. So we’ve developed technology that traces the path of waste back to packaging producers so that consumer goods companies can trust where their recycled packaging materials come from.

In the meantime, says the recycling manager, “general statements that recycling doesn’t work are neither accurate nor helpful. The technology exists so that every piece of plastic can already be recycled. The job now is to make it scalable and financially viable. The combination of a government committed to introducing regulations with incentives and penalties and supporting new technologies could secure Britain’s leadership in the future.

Concludes von Stauffenberg: “What we should be doing instead of recycling waste is improving the ways of recycling waste: recovering plastic waste that has not been recycled before and turning it into new packaging. This will not only reduce the amount of plastic that ends up polluting landfills and rivers, but will also reduce reliance on fossil raw materials to make new plastics. We have to close the loop – it’s the heart of what we do at Dollar.”

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