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United Against the Waste Cowboys

VEKA Compounds’ Simon Scholes fears that the pressure created by the COVID-19 lockdown may allow illegal recyclers back in – and smear the plastics industry. The message is clear, we must not ride with the waste cowboys!

The collection and recycling of rigid PVC has been professionalised in recent years through the involvement of a handful of well-managed and resourced contractors that, together with tougher legislation, an evolved social conscience and the realisation that ‘green’ sells, has, at last, had illegal operators on the back-foot.

My company, VEKA, specialises in the collection and recycling of PVC-U window and door profiles, including post-installation and virgin off-cut materials and returning these to market as high-grade PVC-U polymer. Our customers include a number of well-known brands that buy from us, we believe, because of our unerring commitment to ethical business practices and to a consistently high-quality product. I make this statement, not as a sales pitch, but rather to enforce the point that in this sector like any other, quality is key.

VEKA has been a pioneer in this somewhat niche sector for more than 25 years. We have been joined by a number of other key brands familiar to the British PVC-U window industry that have been promoting recycling, either that they have the capability or that they have a confirmed recycling and sustainability commitment that also includes the inclusion of recycled polymer in their new profiles. These brands – including Rehau and Eurocell especially but also Deceuninck, Profine and our own company VEKA, had decided that in the interests of the future of PVC-U this incredibly versatile material should be fully appreciated and also, that it was far too valuable a resource to simply be thrown away. It was also a good time – overdue in fact – to separate rigid plastics from the disposable single-use material with which our world has become awash.

The active involvement by these companies in the promotion of the recycling of the material that is core to their existence led to dramatic improvements in the supply chain with their customers, who were encouraged to recycle their material thoughtfully and professionally. For VEKA Polymers, together with a handful of other specialists, this is our reason to exist and together, we have been circling the wagons against the hordes of waste cowboys, who promise the Earth but actually, simply pollute it.

Collectively we have been removing and recycling ever-increasing amounts of virgin and post-consumer window frames, using audited collection and recycling trails that are, after all, a legal requirement of every business. And in doing so, denying this material to the cowboys and in turn, therefore, it being dumped without any conscience or concern, or turned into a low-grade compound that is fit for only low-grade production.

I am delighted of course that we are seeing a return to work after lockdown. But this is tempered by a concern that amongst the fringes of our industry there may be companies whom, for even marginal financial reasons or pressures of business, may decide that uncertified, unscrupulous contractors might be worth taking a chance on, undermining the solid work that has been done in recent years to negate their impact on the reputation of professional recyclers and in turn, of course, their product.

We must be on our collective guard against what may be laziness or profiteering amongst a few, who threaten the growing acceptance that plastics may be a sustainable, beneficial and valuable resource when used thoughtfully and then reused over and over.

Whatever difficulties may beset a company either disposing of material or purchasing recycled compound, I urge them to think deeply about taking short-cuts in the pursuit of short-term and potentially illegal gains.

To ignore this plea may have a huge backlash on recyclers of course, but also on the reputation of plastics per se.

Frankly, with so many options now, it just isn’t worth riding with the waste cowboys.

This article was written by Simon Scholes, Managing Director at VEKA Recycling, and Vice-Chairman of the British Plastic Federation’s Recycling Group.

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