Thursday, 20 November 2008

How much is that plastic worth?

The Western Mail reports today that Welsh councils (and one would assume, those elsewhere in the UK) are facing a struggle to sell their recyclate (collected recylable waste) as prices for materials plummet. Councils will have to store recyclate in warehouses as they struggle even to find a buyer for the plastics, paper, glass and so on. The fall in revenues from recyclate will hit Council budgets hard of course.

This whole affair reminds us how truly unsustainable our economy and the link between that economy and ecosystems is. When everybody is clamouring for products in our shops, fuelled by cheap and, as we have seen, all to often ill-judged credit allocation - the price of raw materials stays high, feeding into the manufacture of new products and packaging. Only when things turn sour do we realise the folly of our wasteful ways - not only are we still producing huge amounts of waste in a slowing economy, we are doing so at a rate that doesn't tally with the reduction in manufacture and production companies have made. Put it another way - all the junk sitting in warehouses around the UK, is worth next to nothing - because producers, manufacturers and retailers aren't confident that we'll carry on buying products at the rate we have been.

The irony is that the warehouses of recyclate have drawn upon huge amounts of natural resource in order to be produced - they may have no value in the current market but they have incurred great ecological cost in their production. If we started to value these real costs, there might be a lot less waste and a much higher price put on recyclate streams.

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