04 August 2018

The Local Government Association (LGA) has distributed a press release (embargoed to 00.01 on Saturday 04 August) relating to the recycling of plastics.

Paul Vanston, CEO of INCPEN comments as follows.

I’ve worked in councils for most of my adult life, and mainly in recycling and waste public services. I know how it feels to work within very pressurised political and financial times in councils. The value of collaborative working is long appreciated by me.

So in terms of the LGA’s assertion that the packaging industry is not at the table, I’d have to reflect that it’s my very regular pleasure to see local government colleagues so often across many tables when discussing packaging, recycling and waste issues.

Only last week the LGA accepted my offer of another individual meeting with them set for 21 August. That builds on past 1-to-1 discussions with the LGA on 6 February 2018; LGA attendance at the WRAP-INCPEN-ACP packaging reforms workshop for local government on 23 March, and also attending the subsequent Summit on 16 April. These are in addition to the substantial engagement with local government colleagues with specific expertise on recycling and waste issues including LARAC, NAWDO, ALCO, LWARB, ADEPT, the Kent Resource Partnership, Somerset Waste Partnership, the statutory joint waste disposal authorities, ARC21 in Northern Ireland and many more local government bodies.

Having said that, and to be fair to the LGA as an organisation, it is more often its members and waste contractors, who have repeatedly got around the table with us to find solutions rather than the LGA itself. The recent well-reported work on making black plastics recyclable by retailers, manufacturers and waste management companies is a clear example among many of the progress being made.

Joint ambitions?

Particularly timely is my suggested theme for discussion with the LGA on 21 August around the question, ‘What’s the scale of our joint ambitions at a time when the Government has opened the doors to radical thinking and action?’ I’m really looking forward to discussing that with LGA colleagues. It seems officers are ready for such a discussion. If Cllr Judith Blake is re-elected shortly to her current environment brief, I am very happy to re-iterate my past offers to meet with LGA councillors and also with senior LGA officers including Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive.


2018 is proving to be a foundation year for substantial change. The old-style ways of issuing press releases pointing fingers of blame at others in the very same value chain have been set aside by the most forward-thinking organisations whom are fully engaged in current agendas and helping to shape them.
These same forward-thinking organisations are demonstrating leadership through their own compromises to unlock advancements on recycling challenging materials, supporting that councils receive more funding, and contributing at senior levels to national change programmes including the UK Plastics Pact, Courtauld 2025, and extended producer responsibility reforms.

UK Plastics Pact

There has been – and is – a mass of work for the whole value chain to carry out system changes simultaneously. The creation of the UK Plastics Pact is a game-changer on polymer rationalisation in food & drink products, increasing plastics packaging recyclability, and enabling consumer labelling that is clear and unambiguous on recycling messaging. I and INCPEN’s membership are getting behind this work and committing to do all within our power to help achieve success. Similarly, the LGA has a seat on the UKPP Steering Group. I hope this means the LGA has chosen the UKPP as a means through which they will offer-up effective and substantive contributions on packaging recyclability, rationalisation and consumer labelling.

Consistency of Councils’ Packaging Recycling Collections

The ‘smorgasbord’ that the LGA refers to in its press release actually exists in several parts of how the value chain operates. This includes councils’ packaging recycling collections.

Citizens, governments and the value chain see an array of differing recycling collections that the 300+ councils offer, even when they are next door to each other, and especially in England. Personally, I think there is greater consistency of packaging recycling collections across councils than many think, especially in terms of packaging formats that are recycled. But this solid foundation is what gives rise to my optimism that local government, and the LGA in particular, can remove their existing blocks to having full consistency of packaging recycling collections. If collections consistency, and unambiguous consumer labelling, can happen simultaneously by around 2023, that’s a goal worth aiming for, and allows five years to get it done.

This is an extremely important aspect where the LGA can help right now. Consistency of councils’ packaging recycling collection services is a simultaneous, complimentary and necessary aspect of the joint whole-system approach that we wish the LGA to work on with us. I have high expectations the LGA will use its valuable and potentially influential seat on the UK Plastics Pact Steering Group to unlock the doors currently holding consistency back, in the same way that manufacturers and retailers are unlocking how they will specify future product packaging that is consistent.


The LGA is saying ‘sovereignty’ is not a good enough reason on its own for manufacturers and retailers to maintain packaging differences that make things hard to recycle. I agree. Similarly, it is my view that local government ‘sovereignty’ is also not a good enough reason for councils to maintain their differences in terms of consistency of packaging recycling collections. If we place citizens at the heart of issues, we should recognise local government’s householders – and retailers’ customers – are one and the same. Sovereignty on either side now needs to be set aside in favour of putting citizens first.

It’s precisely because of our shared desire to make things easier for citizens, and to put their interests first, that organisations like the LGA and INCPEN need to work closer than ever. I am happy to get around as many tables as are needed to help us achieve better outcomes for the country.