For the past few years, we at Simpsons Malt have been asked by our customers if our 25kg bags are recyclable, and I don’t think we’re alone in the malting industry in having this question posed to us.
Firstly, to answer the question – yes, our bags are 100% recyclable.
The woven fabric bags are made with 100% polypropylene (PP), while the coating is also PP, with a small amount of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) to assist with adhesion to the woven fabric.
That was the easy part. Now this is where it starts to get a little bit trickier.
Due to the bags having had malt in them, they are classed as dirty waste and cannot go through the simple, household recycling process we all know like the back of our hand. They must go through a wash plant, which is a washing facility for industrial waste. However, there is a severe shortage of wash plants in the UK.
In conducting some research, we provided samples of our packaging to one of the UK’s leading plastic recycling companies, who acknowledged that the bags do have some value and that they’d be keen to process the bags at their wash plant.
So, you’re probably now thinking, what’s the issue then? Well, it’s largely down to logistics.
As it stands, one private recycling company says there is not enough value in the bags (circa £20 per tonne) to come and collect them from our customers by the time they’ve paid for fuel and staff, so are quoting a minimum of five tonnes. Most of our customers don’t have the storage space to accommodate such volumes, so the tonnage quoted is unrealistic and that therefore reduces the potential for the bags to be collected and disposed of in the most environmentally friendly way.
A way around this is that the tonnage referenced above is a figure from a private recycling company. For a local recycling company, this may be different, as the total tonnage will accumulate from a series of pick-ups in the area, making the possibility of picking up our Simpsons Malt bags slightly more achievable. For our customers, going down the local recycling company route is what we would recommend in the short-term.
Over time, our hope is that, along with other maltsters – who themselves have conducted research into the recyclability of their bags – can come together and encourage private recycling companies to be proactive and set up their own recycling programme for bags, getting them to accept that there is enough value in them. We feel a collaborative, industry led approach is the best way to resolving this issue and Richard Simpson, our Vice Chairman and current Chairman of the Maltsters Association of Great Britain (MAGB), has put this important subject on the agenda for the next MAGB meeting in October 2019.
Our own research into finding an easier-to-recycle material for our bags has been exhaustive. While many food and drink companies have been widely criticised for their excessive use of plastics in recent years, for us and other malting companies, finding an alternative seems significantly more difficult.
For starters, we must have food grade quality bags, which means the material must be new and not discounted or second hand. We can’t send malt in paper bags halfway around the world in a container with the atmospheric issues they face, while LDPE – the same material we use on the hoods of our bags – although very recyclable, is not breathable. It would make the malt sweat in transit and the quality would deteriorate quickly. So our options moving forward are limited.
In the meantime, here at Simpsons Malt, we’re in the final stages of updating our bags so that they carry a recycling logo, with its category number five, on the PP material. This will give our customers more visibility on the bags’ recyclable properties. This will take a little bit of time because there’s a 14-week lead time on ordering bags and we then must use all of our existing bags, so by the time they’re with our customers, it will likely be towards the end of 2019.