Here at Indigo Environmental, we are passionate about sustainable and localised plastic recycling.
So much so that recently we were the first plastic recycler to join the innovative Sustainably Sourced Plastic (SSP) certification scheme – by Sustainable Certifications Group (SCG) – which offers recyclers and manufacturers independent assurance in support of the Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT).
We recently caught up with Tim Baldwin, Executive Director of SCG, about the company, the new SSP scheme, and his hopes for the industry…
1. Tell us a bit about SCG:
Based in Livingston, Scotland, SCG was founded in 2018 – as a delivery arm of the Scottish Plastic Recycling Centre of Excellence.
Our organisation has developed a certification scheme for the recycled plastics manufacturing sector to evidence ethical procurement and legislative compliance – working with recyclers and manufacturers to improve quality of recyclates and incorporate these into products.
Indigo has been incredibly proactive in helping us to achieve this, allowing us to pressure test our methodology on their processes and providing valuable feedback to improve the process.
2. What is your new SSP certification scheme?
SSP stands for Sustainably Sourced Plastic and is a Recycled Content Verification Scheme (RCVS). It offers independent assurance in support of the PPT and provides third-party auditing, certification schemes across the recycled plastic supply chain, and a scientific laboratory-based approach.
It assures that plastic packaging products are made from materials that contain at least 30% recycled plastic, and that the recycled plastic is 100% post-consumer and/or post-industrial – providing evidence that they are exempt from the PPT.
The certification process comprises multiple stages, including conformance to the BSI Flex 6228 standard, site visits, feedstock and product sampling, approved testing, and monitoring plans. However, the specific evidence requirements are tailored to the supplier position within the supply chain.
The standard covers how to determine the recycled plastic content contained in PET packaging products and in PET pellets. The addition of other polymers – LDPE, HDPE, and PP – are in progress and are being added to the standard as increasing test data accumulates to provide reference points. As more and more of the supply chain actors adopt the SSP Certification, this will create a database of certificated customers, providing an accredited value chain reference point for procurement specialists and compliance schemes.
3. Who is the SSP scheme for?
The SSP is relevant throughout the entire plastic supply chain – from recyclers and compounders through to packaging manufacturers, retailers, and brand owners.
And while initially focused on packaging, it can cover a wide range of products.
The SSP scheme can assure supply chain businesses – especially brand owners and retailers – that tax exemption claims are externally and independently supported with evidence to help meet HMRC’s expectations. Ultimately, this helps to avoid any misinterpretation of recycled content.
4. And why was SSP set up in the first place?
Although methodologies are being developed which provide traceability of materials throughout the supply chain, there are no widely agreed practices for measuring the amount of recycled content – that is until now.
Also, while it has been possible for physical material tests to be conducted in a laboratory on a case-by-case basis to determine if recycled content is present, it has not been viable to determine the amount (%) of recycled content – and this is exactly why the SSP has been established.
5. How does the material testing methodology work?
It has been designed to be carried out on conventional testing equipment to ensure it is as accessible as possible, and it determines whether a product contains more than or less than a given percentage – 30% in the case of the current UK PPT legislation.
It is important to note that it does not intend to replace any other method – such as auditing – rather it allows for spot-checking and verification of claims, and it is designed to work in conjunction with financial systems and auditing of records.
Regarding the technical bit, the testing is carried out using UV-VIS, DSC, and Colouration to identify transmission and absorbance at certain wavelengths.
6. What are your views on the Plastic Packaging Tax?
The PPT is a great initiative to help encourage the use of more recycled plastic in packaging products. I think it should help to drive some of the much-needed change forward in the industry, but quality measures are needed to ensure that the 30% or more recycled content is being adhered to.
7. What are the benefits for organisations of using recycled plastic over virgin material?
There are many environmental, ethical, resource, and financial advantages of using recycled material. Firstly, the inclusion of recycled materials in packaging can assist in ensuring greater resource efficiency and carbon savings.
Secondly, recycled plastic reduces the demand for virgin raw materials, gives the polymers another life and use, and reduces waste plastic. As a result, this supports the push towards a circular economy and helps to drive collection and recycling rates away from incineration and landfill.
Thirdly, it is no secret that legislation surrounding plastic recycling is ever evolving. From the Plastic Packaging Tax to Net Zero contract targets and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, countries and companies globally are collaborating to help make supply chains greener and protect the earth’s depleting resources. Recycled plastic has a large part to play in achieving this.
8. What are some of the current major challenges facing the plastic recycling industry?
We have all read the headlines about mountains of plastic waste being illegally dumped overseas, and the various cases of ‘greenwashing’ that some brands have been accused of by the Competition and Markets Authority – it is no secret that the plastic supply chain is open to fraudulent activity.
And as the demand for recycled feedstock continues to increase, this may encourage illicit activity such as supplementing it with virgin material to increase fraudulent profitability.
Ultimately, fraud decreases confidence in the industry, undermining investment in recycling and circular economy infrastructure, and that is why a robust system of testing is now critical to help prevent fraud and validate recycled content. This is one of the key drivers behind our SSP scheme.
The SSP Certification and FLEX physical science-based testing process removes the reliance on the ‘trust of another’ to show that regulatory requirements have been met – providing clear evidence of compliance for both ethical procurement and legal fiscal entities.
9. In your opinion, what role does (or should) plastic recycling play in a circular economy?
Plastic recycling is a crucial piece of the circular economy puzzle – it can help to curb the depletion of the planet’s resources as well as promote a more sustainable, less throwaway, mindset throughout society.
10. And what are your hopes for the future of the plastic recycling industry?
That more of the supply chain actors adopt the SSP certification and that this becomes an industry standard. This will create a database of certificated customers – providing an accredited value chain reference point for procurement specialists and compliance schemes, such as the PPT.