Global Recycling Day: don’t waste the opportunity

Raising awareness about recycling means less pollution, lower CO2 emissions and good business sense.

Plastic waste: in numbers

  • The world has produced 8bn metric tonnes of plastic since the 1950s
  • 6.3bn tonnes has become waste, with only 9% of it recycled
  • Every year, some 8m tonnes of plastic is added to the 150m tonnes that is already in our marine environments
  • By 2050, the plastic waste in marine environments is predicted to rise to 750m tonnes

(Source: Global Recycling Day)

Recycling materials – including, paper, metals and glass – could save more than 700m tonnes in global CO2 emissions, according to Global Recycling Day data. Meanwhile, the global plastics recycling industry is worth more than £34bn, employing 1.6m people worldwide.

What can your business do?

At the macro level, recycling makes sense, but smaller businesses might wonder what’s in it for them.

Recycling at work is not only a great way of helping the UK clean up after itself, but a means of connecting a business and its staff to their obligations to the outside world. Many businesses are concerned about net-zero targets, and recycling means that less CO2 will be produced when sourcing raw materials that we need for the things we use. And a planet that experiences less climate change is one that, ultimately, is less costly for all of us.

Being a responsible recycler also means a cleaner public image for your company.

Recycling in the workplace: five top tips

  1. Focus on plastic waste. The majority of office waste is likely to be paper, but plastic is a far bigger concern for the environment as usually it’s not biodegradable.
  2. Hire a recycling waste contractor – or review the service you get from your current one. Businesses are obligated to ensure that their waste carriers are registered, either with the Environment Agency in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Changing contractor may increase the number of materials you can recycle.
  3. Educate your staff. This prompts everyone to think about recycling and take the issue seriously. Point out where the correct recycling bins are for different materials, and make sure someone is responsible for monitoring what is put in each.
  4. Limit the number of general waste bins. By removing the number of bins at people’s workstations, and labelling recycling bins correctly, you can nudge people into disposing of their waste properly.
  5. Keep educating yourself. Monitor updates from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and Global Recycling Day for information about reusing, recycling and reprocessing waste.

What the law says

The UK Environment Agency lists more than 40 key pieces of legislation aimed at the waste management of packaging, batteries and other electrical equipment, as well as specific obligations placed on sectors such as food outlets, manufacturers and nuclear energy.

However, regulations such as the Environmental Protection (Duty of Care) Regulations 1991 are more general and help businesses take responsibility for managing their waste and preventing harm to human health or the environment.

While many companies will not be affected by pieces of legislation geared towards specific sectors, it does serve them well to be familiar with good recycling practice around materials such as plastic and paper, and to know where the country is headed in terms of its long-term approach to the problem.

Overall, the UK has ambitious plans to improve recycling, as reflected in the 25-year environment plan launched by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2018. Then Prime Minister Theresa May earmarked 2042 as the deadline for eliminating avoidable plastic waste.

If we’re to meet this target, businesses need to address the problem now. Global Recycling Day is one way to raise awareness among staff and learn about best practice.

Find out more about how NatWest helps businesses with their climate goals here.

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