Seamus Clancy joined Repak Limited as chief executive in April 2014. With over 20 years’ experience in the waste industry as executive director of One51 plc and managing director of Rilta Environmental Limited, Gillian Hamill caught up with this experienced leader to hear what impact he’s had on the company so far
20 November 2015 | 0
What is the purpose of Repak and its business structure for retailers?
Retailers – along with many other businesses – are obliged by law to ensure that the packaging on products sold to customers ends up being recycled. That is known as the producer responsibility principle. Some retailers are often unaware of this obligation, and frequently confuse the recycling they do on their premises – cardboard, plastic, newspapers etc. – as satisfying their recycling obligations. They also have an obligation on the packaging that goes out in customers’ shopping baskets.
Repak acts as a collective recycling scheme for all of Irish business, including retailers. Each member pays fees to Repak in accordance with the amount of packaging produced. For smaller retailers, the fees are based on their turnover, so they do not have to do separate calculations for their packaging. Repak uses these fees to subsidise the collection and recovery of packaging – and this is paying dividends. Ireland is now among the top performers in Europe for packaging recycling. Retailers who support Repak should take credit for this achievement.
What changes have you implemented in the company since joining as chief executive in April 2014?
Since joining, building trust with all the key holders was the main priority. These included the relationship with the Department of the Environment, Communities and Local Government (DECLG), the value for money proposition with members, the realignment of subsidies paid to recovery operators that reflected the target needs of our approval with the Department and finally creating a new working environment for the staff of Repak to maximise their contribution. All four of these have been largely achieved in the past 18 months. The DECLG has extended our approval period to 2019, a membership rebate programme has been put in place, subsidy realignment with operators has contributed in access of €2m annualised savings and the staff in Repak has undergone a bench marking process and actions from this have been implemented.
Does Repak deliver value for money for retailers?
Without question. The alternative to Repak membership is self-compliance, which is both costly and cumbersome. A self-compliant retailer would be required to set up the equivalent of a bring centre on their premises, and take back and recycle packaging from customers and the general public. On top of that, they would have to provide reports and pay fees to local authorities. Instead, by paying a single annual fee to Repak, their recycling obligations under the Packaging Regulations are fully looked after.
On a separate measurement, all of the other EU countries have the same recycling obligations on packaging producers. But on a like-for-like comparison, Repak fees are among the lowest in the EU – and yet we have higher recycling rates than most of the other countries. That is a clear indication of value for money.
What will Repak’s education and awareness campaign involve?
We have to use a number of channels to get our message across about the need to recycle more, and recycle responsibly. We have worked a lot with schools in programmes such as Green Schools and Junk Kouture. We have targeted campaigns for consumers at peak consumption times such as Easter and Christmas. We reward businesses and other organisations who support recycling and good waste management through the Pakman Awards. Our current campaign is focused on plastic recycling – #makeplasticfantastic. We are facing tough new targets on plastic recycling, so we have to up the ante on that front.
Who sits on the board of Repak?
Our board structure is designed to reflect the membership base of Repak. That includes the larger retailer sector, brand holders, importers and distributors, packaging producers and the independent retail and hospitality sectors.
Members are elected from their membership grouping, and the elections are highly competitive. We are fortunate to have the services of Tony Keohane, former CEO and chairman of Tesco Ireland, and John Curran, Head of Sustainability at the Musgrave Group, representing retailers. Jim McNeill of Kelloggs and Ailish Forde of Coca Cola look after the interests of brand holders and importers. David Duffy, MD of National Plastic Packaging Group represents packaging producers, while Jim Bird, a retailer from Co. Meath, represents the independent retail and hospitality sector.
Our governance structure also allows us to have independent directors to provide a balance of views and expertise. Anne Butler and Louise English, who have served on the boards of high profile businesses and other organisations in Ireland, provide that independent expertise.
How important is openness and transparency in Repak, particularly following the confidential settlement of its claim against British Polythene Industries plc and Andrew Hetherington?
Openness and transparency is paramount to everything we now do. Since joining Repak we have produced two annual reports for our members which is the first time ever that full corporate governance, financial performance, recycling and recovery performance communication and education and awareness programmes have all been detailed. The board of Repak is committed to the highest standards of corporate governance and is fully in adherence with the DECLG code of practice.
How effective is the enforcement of packaging regulations at present and how can this be improved?
It hasn’t been good up to now, but thankfully that is about to change. The government has recognised the scale of the problem, and has now set up a series of Regional Enforcement Authorities to tackle the free riders. They will come well equipped. There is already a list of non-compliers available, and they will be targeted quite swiftly. Prosecutions will also follow, as the system for bringing non-compliers before the courts will be streamlined.
The new enforcement system has the backing of all the major business and trade associations. After all, nobody can support unfair competition or a system where those who are compliant are picking up the tab for the evaders.
What percentage of retailers in Ireland are currently neither self-compliant nor Repak members?
All of the main supermarket chains and larger high street retailers are in Repak membership, and make a substantial contribution to recycling.
A recent report for government estimated that there are some 3,000 businesses in Ireland who are currently non-compliant with the Packaging Regulations. From our own knowledge, a significant number of these would be retailers – independent grocery and convenience stores, pharmacies, off-licences and other smaller retailers. These groups will be targeted by the new enforcement authorities.