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Viridor vision backed by Countryfile's Tom Heap at star-studded conference

28th February 2020

Viridor has outlined its vision for a regional collaboration which would give all plastic waste a recycling solution at a star-studded event.

BBC Countryfile presenter Tom Heap and marine litter expert Professor Richard Thompson - the man who coined the phrase 'microplastics' - were among the 150 delegates who attended the Rubbish To Resource conference at We The Curious in Bristol.

Viridor organised the conference to bring together a wide range of industry experts, campaigners, journalists, local authorities and businesses in order to discuss and debate how to create a truly circular economy in the South West and South Wales.

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The collaboration has been designed to help the region show leadership and take responsibility for all the plastic consumed in the area.

Mr Heap took to the stage and spoke about how there is a new-found consciousness from the public when it comes to recycling, and the impact of plastics in particular.

He said: "There has been what I call 'The Great Awakening' about plastics - a series on television that went out about two years ago changed the temperature and mood on plastics.

"It was so effective because the plastics were highly visible and it was highly emotive because they had potentially dying whale calves as a result. It helped that there was a highly-orchestrated media campaign behind it too.

"There's this real belief that we're going to have to stop everything with plastics which is ridiculous.

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"The actual stats of the use and the amount of plastics that are being thrown away have barely changed over the last year given the public fervour over it. My feeling is that the public outrage over this is extremely powerful though and creates a demand for solutions.

"I think the downfall is where we let the public come up with the solutions themselves - I think it'll be the industry itself as well as designers and retailers who find those answers. I think plastic isn't evil, but letting it escape into the environment is."

Mr Heap also aimed to bust some myths about alternatives to plastic, such as glass and aluminium, actually pose greater environmental challenges than recycling plastic.

He said: "Not using plastic where it isn't necessary is certainly part of that and substitution is part of the solution but I think we need to consider the environmental consequences when we start demanding other materials.

"I think the principal driver is at the design stage and the back end of the process which is why we're all here today."

Viridor managing director Phil Piddington said: "The theme is working together in the South West and South Wales. One of the things that we want to get out of today is a new way of working together so that we can maximise the re-use of plastics and avoid it going into landfill.

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"We need to have a balanced conversation about good plastics - there are different types of plastics, some are highly recyclable and some are really difficult and costly to recycle. Today is the start, here in the South West and Wales, of actually getting us together collectively to have that debate.

"The great news is that over the last two years, we have got brand leaders fully engaged and they are setting their own targets which are truly ambitious. But in order to achieve them they are needing to innovate and we are doing quite a lot of work with the major brand leaders so that they have more recycled content to blend.

"We're not going to solve that level of collaboration overnight because if it's going to be effective and create lasting change then we've got to bring everyone with us.

"We've got to make sure we listen to local authorities, what works for the big processors, manufacturers and what we would love to see is everybody together making some concrete commitments of what we can do in the region and today was the start of that."

Professor Richard Thompson OBE, head of the international marine litter research unit at the University of Plymouth said: “We have a warning signal now, after finding fish with plastic in their guts, that we absolutely need to change our ways.

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"We as individuals must all try not to drop litter, not let plastic enter the environment and even better that recycle the things that can be recycled. And we all need to work together as there are still lots of products out there that are unnecessarily difficult to recycle - it also needs to come from the design stage."

Also among those addressing the conference were Mickey Green, managing director of the Somerset Waste Partnership, Wrap UK director Peter Maddox and Sylvie Verinder of community interest company Nurdle.

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Meanwhile Klockner Pentaplast sustainability manager Aida Cierco, Green Alliance Senior Policy Advisor Libby Peake; The On-Pack Recycling Label Services Manager Alice Harlock and Walgreen Boots Alliance Sustainable Packaging Manager Steve Owen took part in a panel discussion on the design of plastic packaging, answering questions from the audience.

Dr Tim Rotheray, innovation director for Viridor closed the event with a call to action.

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He said: "There's a common ambition across people to actually deal with the problem and the one thing that really struck me today was the maturity of the debate.

"There are a lot of very simplistic messages out there at the moment, for example, plastic is bad but it's good for us to show, with the help of people like Tom Heap, that it is more complicated than that. Hearing that people want to help and create a circular economy is really exciting.

"Events like this are hugely important and I think this is what leadership is. This is our sector and it's undergoing transformation and we can either decide to lead it or follow it and pulling everyone together and saying collectively that this is a problem we've all got to work to solve and is bigger than any of us is really important."

Pennon Group, parent company of the UK’s biggest recycling company Viridor, will soon open a new multi-polymers facility which will recycle 60,000 tonnes of plastic from bottles, pots, tubs and trays.

Recycling saves energy, helps protect the environment and reduces greenhouse gas emissions which help tackle climate change.

The plant will be co-located with and powered by energy generated from the £252million energy recovery facility (ERF) which is currently under construction and due to open in the 2020-21 financial year. The multi-plastics plant and ERF form part of the Avonmouth Resource Recovery Centre.

It is part of Viridor’s continuing commitment to UK plastics conversion, coming within months of the Government’s Resources and Waste strategy, and a year on from the UK Plastics Pact, of which Viridor was a founding member.

For further information please contact:

pressoffice@pennon-group.co.uk