All parties must take resource security seriously

The threat to Closed Loop Recycling could end in social, economic and environmental tragedy


As I write this, Dagenham’s world-leading plastics recycling plant, Closed Loop Recycling, is fighting to keep the administrators at bay. On the one side CLR is assailed by the tumbling oil price, which makes virgin i.e. non-recycled plastic that much cheaper. On the other, dairy companies and retailers appear to be walking away from the much vaunted Dairy Roadmap and Courtauld voluntary agreements to make milk bottles from 30 per cent recycled plastic.

Last week resources minister Dan Rogerson reportedly tried to bang heads together to no avail. Unless the likes of Dairy Crest, Muller, Tesco and Sainsbury’s agree to honour their sides of the bargain and in so doing demonstrate to prospective buyers there’s a market for CLR’s product, the plant could close.

This matters because the end of CLR would be a body blow to the UK’s nascent recycling sector. CLR is a world-leader because pretty much no-one anywhere else has invested in the specialist kit necessary to recycling plastics so well they can be used again for food and drinks containers. What’s ‘made in Dagenham’ by CLR is a great news story so far as its 120 jobs, twelve million quid and buckets more effort and enthusiasm from private and public sector alike have shown.

To let all that go to waste – kit stripped out and sold to the highest bidder, investment likely shifted permanently to Europe, lost jobs in the plant and supporting partners and communities – would be a social, economic and environmental tragedy. Still more, it would be an epic failure of government.

I’ve not heard or read of anyone, anywhere, who thinks the oil price will stay low. Instead, all the pundits reckon it’ll climb again, and soon, whereupon CLR’s recycled plastic would be competitive again. Not only that, there’s no doubting we’re all – all over the world – on a path to more resource efficiency, less waste – more industries and companies like CLR. To let CLR go down on the back of a temporary drop in oil prices and a failure of companies to honour their commitments doesn’t just reek of bad government, it looks like no government at all.

That’s probably not what Dan Rogerson had in mind when he wrote to the contents of his ministerial address book in 2013, informing us that the government reckoned it had no further role to play on the resources agenda. It’s what we’ve got though.

It’s not just environmentalist and individual companies like CLR that are banging the drum for action now. Big business groups are doing so too, petrified that growing international competition for diminishing supplies of raw materials means their supply chains are looking increasingly wobbly. For five of the last six years the Manufacturers’ Association EEF’s survey of member chief executives saw resource security and commodity price volatility listed as a top-five concern.

The next government has to do things differently. That’s why business groups as well as environmentalists like Friends of the Earth are calling, loudly and repeatedly, for two things: an Office for Resource Management (ORM) to co-ordinate resources policy across Whitehall and the devolved governments, and a review of the UK’s dependence on raw material supplies and the implications of that for the economy as a whole.

Supporters with EEF and Friends of the Earth include the Packaging Federation, the Institute of Civil Engineers, the British Plastics Federation, the Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association, British Glass and many other representatives of UK industry. Behind those names sit a lot of jobs, and a fat wodge of GDP.

The Lib Dems committed at their Spring Conference to both the ORM and the raw materials review, and Labour have quietly announced that they would run the review, but have failed as yet to make the firmer commitments they had promised were forthcoming. Meanwhile the Conservatives are worryingly quiet on something you would assume was their natural heartland – ensuring business resilience.

This is too important an issue to play party politics with, so we’re calling on all the parties to use the next few weeks of electioneering to demonstrate that they will take national resource security and efficiency seriously in future.

No party that fails to commit to the ORM and the raw materials review can claim to have a long-term plan for the economy, let alone the environment and companies like Closed Loop Recycling.

Julian Kirby is an economics and resource campaigner for Friends of the Earth

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.