Repak CEO Andrew Hetherington claims he is taking a pragmatic approach to the problem of streamlining the recycling of packaging waste, according to an interview in the Irish Times."All along, my real passion in life - my hobby - has been the environment," he said. Hetherington has been at the helm of Republic of Ireland-based Repak since it was set up in 1997 as a compliance scheme to enable member companies to meet their EU obligations when it comes to recycling their packaging waste.
The regulations stipulate that any business with an annual turnover in excess of €1.27 million and that supplies more than 25 tonnes of packaging must recycle a large portion of that waste. Naturally, the food and beverage industry represents a large proportion of these businesses.
Repak currently has 900 member companies in the Republic. The company's results for 2001 show that 237,000 tonnes of packaging waste were recycled, well above the target of 200,000 tonnes set for the Republic by the EU. And Hetherington is confident that Repak can meet its next set of targets.
"Our target going forward is 50 per cent [of packaging waste] by 2005. Our first tranche of targets, which we exceeded in 2001, was for 25 per cent," he explained.
Of the three countries assigned a target of 25 per cent - the other two being Portugal and Greece - only Ireland reached that target. The other EU member-states currently have a target of 50 per cent, which the Republic will have to achieve within three years.
Because Ireland had a limited recycling heritage to fall back on, it was placed in a lower recycling rate category by EU regulators.
'"We have successfully developed a partnership ethos where we want to work with people. We don't want to fight with other stakeholders, we don't want to attribute blame. We want to be a catalyst, take a leadership role, but to bring us all up to where we should be," he said.
Recycling is a volume-driven business and, as the recent closure of the Irish Glass Bottle company demonstrates, the population of the Republic is insufficient to support a viable recycling industry.
In view of this, Hetherington has been working with industry and government in Northern Ireland and Europe with a view to making such industry viable.
"We are trying to exploit opportunities to add value to our own economy. But where that doesn't look possible on our own, we're looking at all-Ireland first of all and then we're looking at European strategic alliances," he said. Such strategic alliances might see large recyclers on the European mainland set up smaller pre-processing plants in Ireland, for example.
Hetherington believes that the consumer will ultimately foot the bill for any additional costs associated with recycling, so it is in everyone's interest to ensure that those costs are kept to a minimum.
"Industry can't absorb these costs anyway so they add it onto the product cost, and it ends up that the consumer meets those costs anyway. What I say is we've all got a vested interest in getting value for money."As part of the drive to encourage recycling, Repak has recently launched a new strategy which will see an additional 850 'bring-bank' facilities located throughout the Republic. Each facility will have five banks - three for glass, one for plastic bottles and one for metal packaging.
Hetherington is confident that schemes such as this, when allied with industry involvement, will allow the Republic to achieve its target to recycle 50 per cent of packaging waste by 2005. The Republic is on course to meet its target of 270,000 tonnes for this year.