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Reward good behaviour, stop punishing consumers

‘There is a strong demand for recycled content in non-packaging applications,’ according to Ralf Mandelatz of Remondis. A minimum goal for recycled content is a ‘good idea’, he told delegates at the recent Plastics Recyclers Europe show in Amsterdam. ‘As long as requirements are clear.’

Major brands like Volvo and Hewlett Packard have proven that recyclates can serve a wide array of high-end products. ‘Still, much of the conversation is focussed on eco-packaging,’ Mandelatz observes. ‘In the coming years, we need to have a broader vision when talking about recycled content and recyclability,’ he urges. ‘What about office supplies, for example. We all use pens, don’t we?’

Currently, the European recycling rate for plastics packaging is between 40-50%. This could be a lot higher if less plastic was sent to waste-to-energy plants. Even leading nations like Austria, Denmark and Germany incinerate over half of their material.

Positive reinforcement

Manufacturers have the power to make a difference. ‘We should prioritise extended producer responsibility schemes rather than telling consumers to bear the costs,’ Mandelatz suggests. He likens this to basic business psychology; if you make people pay, you make them suffer and you shouldn’t be surprised when you loose support. ‘Consumers won’t react in a positive way, even if the recycling fee is only fifty cents.’

The next professionals

Rewarding good behaviour is much better, Mandelatz notes. ‘We see this in our own children.’ In fact, Remondis created a special lesson plan to teach Germany’s youngsters how the recycling industry works. The education course is called “Wertstoff Profi’s” (Materials Professionals), made available for schools as well as parents.

‘We created a series of short how-to videos about sorting, recyclability, the recycling process, you name it,’ Mandaletz explains. ‘There is a lot of expertise in the recycling sector, of course. That doesn’t mean we have all the answers. We need to prepare the next generation by building up their knowledge of sustainability and circular business models from a young age.’

Remondis is trying to get kids to see the value in plastic waste.

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