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UK recycling company Viridor has begun an exciting collaboration to give all plastic waste a recycling solution at an event supported by BBC Countryfile's Tom Heap and Prof Richard Thompson, Head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth.

The ground-breaking collaboration has been designed to allow the South West and South Wales to show regional leadership and take responsibility for all the plastic consumed in the area.

Viridor is the largest UK-owned recycling and energy recovery company and has its headquarters in the South West, with a head office in Taunton. It is part of the FTSE 250 Pennon Group, which is based in Exeter.

The event, which took place at We The Curious in Bristol on Thursday, February 27, brought together a range of passionate experts, local authorities and businesses.

The conference included a Q&A with Prof Richard Thompson, Head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth, left, Viridor MD Phil Piddington and Countryfile presenter and broadcaster Tom Heap, right (Image: Freia Turland)

The idea behind the event was to link up key experts in their fields on how to turn rubbish into a resource and create a circular economy in the South West and South Wales.

Viridor brought together 150 representatives of local authorities, trade bodies, recyclers and reprocessors, packaging manufacturers, consumer brands, the retail sector and NGOs involved in beach cleans and litter picks to consider a new regional initiative.

It's just the start of an innovative project as the South West-based recycling company gets set to open its new £65million plastics recycling plant in Avonmouth - the largest multi-plastic plant in the UK.

Viridor MD Phil Piddington emphasised that the initiative aims to ensure that all plastic consumed in the region, from kerbside local authority collections, beach cleans and litter picks, will be sent to those companies which can recycle it.

Rubbish to Resource conference speakers with Viridor MD Phil Piddington, front, and Countryfile presenter and broadcaster Tom Heap (Image: Freia Turland)

Tom Heap, broadcaster and Countryfile presenter, took to the stage on the day and spoke about a new-found consciousness from the public when it comes to plastic and recycling.

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.

The Keep Britain Tidy Project with manager Neil Hembrow, Eco schools national manager Lee Ray-Davies and Pennon's head of sustainability Dan Cooke (Image: Freia Turland)

"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."

He pointed out that many of the alternatives to plastic – glass bottles and aluminium cans – in fact posed more environmental challenges than a widely recyclable plastic because of the energy such materials required in the manufacturing process.

Tom Heap discusses the new scheme with the audience (Image: Freia Turland)

Tom added: "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."

MD Phil Piddington took to the stage and said: “The theme of today 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.

"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 starting, 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.”

Viridor MD Phil Piddington with Sylvie Verinder and Josh Beech from community interest company, Nurdle. Viridor is sponsoring a new Nurdle beach-cleaning initiative to be launched next month (Image: Freia Turland)

Professor Richard Thompson OBE, Head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth was at the event and said: “We have a warning signal now, after finding fish with plastic in their guts, that we absolutely need to change our ways.

"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."

Dr Tim Rotheray, Innovation Director for Viridor (Image: Freia Turland)

The conference heard from Somerset Waste Partnership MD Mickey Green and resource charity WRAP UK about the success being achieved with transforming domestic, commercial waste and recyclables into high-quality raw materials and renewable energy we’re making a big contribution to improving the UK’s resource efficiency.

WRAP UK Director Peter Maddox emphasised by the entire supply chain has signed up to the UK Plastics Pact to ensure all plastic was designed to be recycled.

A panel discussion featuring Klöckner Pentaplast Sustainability Manger 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 discussed how the sector was already focusing its efforts on design for recyclability and using recycled plastic in the manufacturing of new products.

Klöckner Pentaplast Sustainability Manager Aida Cierco, left, Green Alliance Head of Resource Policy Libby Peake, The On-Packing Recycling Label’s Membership and Service Manager Alice Harlock and Walgreen Boot Alliance Sustainable Packaging Manager Steve Owen (Image: Freia Turland)

Dr Tim Rotheray, Innovation Director for Viridor, said following the conference: "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."

He added: "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."

Viridor's recycling MD Simon Hicks with Klöckner Pentaplast sustainability manager Aida Cierco (Image: Freia Turland)

Phil Piddington added: "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."

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.

Viridor MD Phil Piddington stressing that collaboration across the supply chain is required to ensure all plastic is given a recycling solution (Image: Freia Turland)

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 on 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.

To find out more about Viridor and the Rubbish to Resource campaign, visit https://www.viridor.co.uk/ .

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