British recycling industry is facing a challenging new year

With Paul Sanderson at the helm, TRA is repositioning itself


Paul Sanderson will soon be wrapping up his first year in office as Chief Executive of The Recycling Association (TRA) in the UK. He recently spoke to EUWID about changes at the association and current challenges for the British recycling industry.

One of the first changes to be made within the organisation once Mr Sanderson joined TRA was the development of a new strategy for The Recycling Association, which the new chief executive and the association's governing council drew up together. As part of this strategy, TRA unveiled a new logo and the slogan "The voice of the UK recycling industry" to highlight the association's work representing waste and recycling companies, paper and cardboard recyclers, plastics recyclers, metal recyclers, glass recyclers, service and equipment providers and others.

The association also has members based in Ireland and other EU countries who work with UK companies.

"We welcome this diversity of experience and knowledge as we seek to encourage further trade between our friends and colleagues," Mr Sanderson explained.

Along with the other changes, TRA decided to move its offices from Daventry to Manchester.

"Being in a major city means we can expand our influence and services to our members and better engage with our industry. We’ve also modernised our internal processes, upgrading our technology and making us fit for the future," said Mr Sanderson.

Red Sea crisis and upcoming legislation

The current year already promises to be as challenging as 2023. "There will be a lot to do, not least if unexpected events occur, as we saw with the crisis in the Red Sea over the Christmas period and afterwards," said Mr Sanderson. The association has supported its members during this crisis, which has created a lot of new headaches for recyclers, and has kept the public informed about the situation.

The Chief Executive is also dealing with legislative challenges, chief among them the roll-out of the extended producer responsibility system for packaging (EPR) in the UK. Associated with that is "Simpler Recycling" (commingled collections of dry recycling material) in England and slightly different schemes for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This subject alone has taken up quite a bit of Mr Sanderson's time in the past year, he said.

Another challenge has been the upcoming reform of the waste permit/exemption system in England, and the possible consequences it could have, particularly for smaller recycling businesses that previously operated with exemptions. One of TRA's goals therefore is to ensure that waste permit reforms do not harm the association's members that were previously eligible to register for exemptions under the higher volume caps that have been binding until now

Another important subject is the UK's upcoming 2024 General Election. Although Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has yet to call an election, the latest possible date would be 28 January 2025. The timing of the election will have an impact on whether some policy might not go ahead at all, Mr Sanderson said.

Focus on end of waste criteria and EU waste shipping regulation

Despite Brexit, new regulations in the EU will also have an impact on the recycling industry in the UK.

"I'm trying to understand how proposed European rules (especially waste shipment regulations) will have an impact on Great Britain but especially Northern Ireland," explained Mr Sanderson.

A key objective this year is the introduction of end-of-waste criteria for paper and cardboard in the UK.

"Improving quality continues to be a priority for us and our members, which is why we are working with our partners at the Environmental Services Association on End-of-Waste criteria for paper and cardboard. We are seeking to convince our regulators of the need for this to enable friction-free trade of a product for the circular economy," Mr Sanderson said.

At a time of increasing export restrictions, new post-Brexit customs rules and development of technological solutions, the (TRA-developed) Traqa solution continues to grow and is helping companies smooth the difficulties associated with green and amber list exports, said Mr Sanderson.

He added, "What I know is that the UK recycling industry is taking all of this change in its stride, being resilient and keeping material moving. Inevitably, there will be a lot to deal with in 2024 to help our members and their businesses. The team at The Recycling Association will work in the interests of our industry with the UK Government and devolved Governments, our partners across the world and regulators."

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