April 17, 2023

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Insights

Industry Leader Insights: Sebastian Munden

“If you can close geographical or network barriers through your virtual marketplace then it’s a perfect illustration of how we need to move.”

Sebastian Munden, Chair of WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme), and former Chief Executive of Unilever UK & Ireland sat down with TrueCircle’s CEO Rishi Stocker to discuss the challenges facing the recycling industry, and his outlook on its future.

How do you see WRAP’s role in the recycling industry developing over the next five years?

WRAP has been on a journey over the past 20 years to really tackle the waste issue which as we now know also intersects with greenhouse gas emissions and the climate crisis. As our teams promote a circular economy, re-channel recycled commodities back into the supply chain, and reduce GHGs, we work with Governments, stakeholders, and citizens to deliver real change-driven initiatives to combat these issues. Cross-sector collaboration will be imperative in fighting the climate crisis. The recycling industry plays a vital role in supporting WRAP’s voluntary agreements: the UK Plastics Pact, Courtauld 2030 which aims to reduce food waste and Textiles 2030, all of which work systemically to prevent waste in the first instance, and ensure that products on the market are reusable and recyclable.

What are the biggest challenges the recycling industry faces today and what can be done to tackle them?

I know pricing has been an issue in recent months but as supply increases that will correct itself, the question is how quickly. We see FMCGs mandating recycled content quotas which need to be fulfilled by the industry, leading to ever-increasing cooperation between consumers, FMCGs, reprocessors and waste management facilities. We need to drive efficiency to lower the price differential between virgin and recycled materials. Soft plastic wrapping, which is now the last plastic left in household rubbish, is also a key challenge we all face, and we need investment in the infrastructure to tackle it at scale, based on settled regulatory clarity.

How do you expect new technology, such as AI certification and real time material quality monitoring, will impact the recycling industry?

It’s all extremely interesting. In all honesty, before I came into my role at WRAP, I hadn’t thought much about how AI technology can drive recycling rates. One of my priorities is focussing on the psychological side of waste; how do we educate and inspire people to recycle more. If we get that in place along with frameworks and technology that is certain and stable then the difference we can make is huge.

I can see how AI also has an important role to play in increasing the efficiency of sorting systems and providing transparency on the flow of materials. So it has a key role in keeping materials in use for longer and enabling the circular economy.

Finally, what do you see as the biggest barriers for the industry to transition to trading over online platforms? We have seen this trend of successfully moving trade to online marketplace across many parallel markets.

If you can close geographical or network barriers through your virtual marketplace then it’s a perfect illustration of how we need to move, I really, really like that. As the marketplace grows and becomes busier, you have more actors, leading to more connections and potential of more recycled content being fed into circular supply chains. Traceability of where material comes from is also vital in helping to close the loop. I think the work you are doing with TrueCircle Trade is very useful and really encouraging to hear.

Thank you for your time Sebastian, great to talk and hear your thoughts!

Thank you guys! Really enjoyed that and all the best for the future.

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