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RECOUP: The 3-Year Project, 30 Years On

Originally set up in 1990 with the aim of kick-starting PET bottle recycling in the UK, Plastics Recycling Charity, RECOUP (RECycling Of Used Plastics), is this year celebrating 30 years of work and influence within the plastics recycling chain.

Initially called Operation RECOUP, the venture, which was non-profit making, brought together major UK bottle blowers, machinery, and material producers to drive forward plastic bottle recycling.

PRW Snippit
PRW Article, dated January 20th 1990.

Alan Davey, then Technical Environmental Manager at LinPac Plastics, said of the launch of RECOUP that “We feel that no such vehicle currently exists”. Looking back, Davey stated “It is strange to think that something we thought would only be needed for three years has turned out to be even more relevant today than it was in 1990.  The leadership at RECOUP has taken the organisation to new levels of ambition; bringing recyclability by design to the core of any sustainability programme, driving collaboration across the value chain, championing the need for citizen education, alongside industry best practice and knowledge transference.”

As with all organisations that survive in such ever-changing landscapes, RECOUP has proven its adaptability and capability. The wealth of knowledge within the organisation is key to driving the ambitious government targets, as well as being able to understand the issues at each part of the value chain, whether; collection, sorting, reprocessing, or end markets. RECOUP have an unrivalled grasp of what is possible on the ground in terms of plastics recycling and a clear vision of the day when their services will no longer be needed in a utopian world where all plastics remain in the loop.

In 1994, RECOUP’s first Local Authority Household Collection Survey reported that 3,150 tonnes of plastic bottles were being collected. At this point, there were only eight household bottle collection schemes. The 2019 UK Household Plastics Collection Survey reported 370,890 tonnes of bottles were collected for recycling with all UK Local Authorities providing a kerbside collection service.

However, this does not mean that the job is done, RECOUP continues to call for even better collection rates for bottles and seeks to discuss the challenges within film collection rates (5%) and pots, tubs and trays (31%).   If 2025 targets are to be achieved, then much still remains to be done.

Stuart Foster, RECOUP CEO, commented: “No one could have predicted the pressure and attention placed on plastics in recent years fuelled by the ‘Blue Planet’ effect and certainly when RECOUP was launched, this was not forecasted to be part of our future working space. Politicians, consumers, media, and businesses are all demanding change and RECOUP is central to delivering that change through increased recycling and more efficient use of plastic resources.

“Clearly, it cannot be right to allow plastics to leak into the environment, but neither is it acceptable to lose the opportunity to use plastic where it is the most appropriate and cost-effective material for so many applications. We look forward to working with the support of our members to help foster the right conditions to allow for a viable and resilient plastics recycling system across the UK.”

Today, RECOUP boasts over 141 members from waste management companies, reprocessors, brands and retailers. Amongst the roll call are some of the founding members who have been with the charity throughout the journey, and for whom, the recyclability of plastics and the reduction of plastic pollution and waste have formed a key part of their environmental and sustainability ambitions. RECOUP’s work to bring the value chain together while promoting collaboration to achieve plastics waste reduction targets is certainly paying dividends.

Gordon McSkimming, Sustainable Packaging Manager, Coca-Cola European Partners, commented: “RECOUP add value by bringing together industry experts and brands and share Coca-Cola’s passion to drive down plastic waste and increase plastics recycling. Coca-Cola is proud to have been a partner of RECOUP for the last 30 years.  It’s Coca-Cola’s ambition to work towards a world without waste, and we want to see a world where all our plastic packaging is recycled, and none ends up in the rivers or oceans.  Working with RECOUP can help contribute to achieving this objective, and Coca-Cola looks forward to continuing to collaborate successfully as we go forward together.”

RECOUP’s ‘Don’t Throw On The Go’ Campaign was launched in June 2020, focusing on encouraging citizens to recycle plastic and to not litter.

RECOUP have never been shy about having the conversations directly with the public on plastics packaging and recycling over the years visiting; Jimmy’s Farm, air shows, Festivals, marathons, schools, High Streets and community groups. The Pledge2Recycle Plastics citizen arm of RECOUP is active across social media platforms and recently tackled the issue of COVID-19 litter with their #dontthrowonthego campaign.

Foster further commented: “We look forward to working with the support of our members to encourage and help foster the right conditions to allow for a viable and resilient system plastics recycling system across the UK.”

From an organisation set up as a 3-year project looking at plastic bottle recycling, RECOUP has evolved into a respected authority and leading information source of the challenges and opportunities of plastics recycling. The organisation remains at the forefront of discussions to create the right legislative drivers, alongside conversations on Extended Producer Responsibility.

RECOUP has also filled a primary role in ensuring that all parts of the value chain discuss the topical issues of the day in an atmosphere designed to foster partnerships and collaboration for the greater good of the industry. Throughout September and October this year, RECOUP is staging a series of web presentations and discussions (further information at www.recoup.org). The topics covered reflect the range of RECOUP work from plastics in farming and horticulture, to the opportunities of reuse and refillable strategies and challenges of flexibles recycling.

Any organisation wishing to become members of RECOUP are encouraged to contact enquiry@recoup.org.

 

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