England’s Recycling Fall: Is Austerity To Blame?

northern-ireland-recycling-rateThe fall in England’s household recycling rate is “disappointing”. What do we need to improve the quality and quantity of recycling? Do we need “fresh thinking”? Ultimately, is austerity to blame? Do we need new ways to measure recyclate to prevent seasonal fluctuations? Here’s what industry figures had to say…

The Recycling Association, among other industry figures, expressed disappointment that the recycling rate in England having fallen for the first time since 2011, according to the latest figures from Defra published yesterday (15 December).

With the rate in the UK falling from 44.9% to 44.3% as a result of the English recycling rate falling from 44.8% to 43.9%, this means it will make it more difficult to meet the 2020 target of 50% recycling for the UK as a whole under European Union regulations.

Quality

The Recycling Association chief executive, Simon Ellin, said: “Of course, at The Recycling Association, we are in favour of promoting more recycling, so it is disappointing that the overall recycling and composting rate for England has fallen.

“But we are not in favour of focusing on bringing in more tonnage for recycling only. What we need to ensure is that we have the optimum system to bring in more material while improving the quality of it.

“These figures show that it is imperative that this work done by WRAP is now implemented by Government, by requiring local authorities to introduce consistent household collections across England.”

“The Recycling Association is a strong supporter of the work done by WRAP to promote consistency of recycling collections, and this will help ensure more material is available at the best possible quality to those who will be recycling it.

“These figures show that it is imperative that this work done by WRAP is now implemented by Government, by requiring local authorities to introduce consistent household collections across England.

“Inevitably, there will be calls for more funding from Government to promote higher levels of recycling by the householder through communications campaigns, and we would welcome that.

“But any communication campaigns must focus on improving quantity and quality, showing the householder how to recycle effectively within a consistent English recycling collection scheme.

“However, now would also be a good time to consider whether we should have weight-based targets at all. Surely it is better to have 5,000 tonnes of quality recycled product than 10,000 tonnes of contaminated material that might end up in landfill?

“Undoubtedly, at a time when local authorities have had their budgets cut while at the same time having to meet these targets, this has led to increasing levels of substandard product.

“In the interests of making the UK the best market for recycled product, let’s look at quality first ahead of quantity.”

Fresh Thinking

David Palmer-Jones, CEO of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, said: “Fresh thinking is needed to resuscitate England’s declining recycling performance. At SUEZ we believe Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) can be a key driver for raising recycling rates.

“The more we recycle, the more value we extract from our waste. That means more investment and more jobs with, in a post-Brexit world, domestically recycled materials replacing scarce (and often imported) virgin raw materials.

“Higher recycling rates can only be achieved through a combination of higher capture rates during waste collection, lower levels of contamination, and high quality recyclates that are accepted as virgin material substitutes.”

Higher recycling rates can only be achieved through a combination of higher capture rates during waste collection, lower levels of contamination, and high quality recyclates that are accepted as virgin material substitutes. Above all, the entire chain needs to be properly funded. Cuts to waste management services has been one consequence of local authority budgets under immense stress. Inevitably, recycling performance has suffered.

“The principle of EPR is that producers of the consumer products we buy are made responsible for their management after they are discarded as waste. With recycling targets to meet, that means producers have a hand in designing collection systems appropriate for receiving back the materials they are responsible for.  Producers must also fund these systems, which include options such as separate doorstep collection, deposit-return schemes, and reverse vending systems.

“Placing recycling targets on producers and making them responsible for funding waste collection would incentivise them to reduce post-consumer waste by avoiding unnecessary packaging, and to design products and packaging which are easier to recycle.  A producer-funded system would take the pressure off local authority budgets and in the long run drive a more resilient and high-performing recycling sector.”

Council Budget Cuts

The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) says the latest Defra figures show the effects the ongoing council budget cuts are having on local authority waste services.

LARAC believes the drop in recycling levels shows the funding of council waste services need a fundamental review and concepts such as Extended Producer Responsibility and direct charging need to be explored and implemented.

“We are obviously disappointed that the rates have gone down for the first time. But when waste services are competing for a reduced budget with adult care, education and social services it is clear something is going to give.”

LARAC urges Defra to work constructively with itself and other local government groups to map out the policy instruments that will see the UK achieve the 50% recycling rate it now appears to be in danger of missing.

Andrew Bird, Chair LARAC, said: “We are obviously disappointed that the rates have gone down for the first time. But when waste services are competing for a reduced budget with adult care, education and social services it is clear something is going to give. We need to establish new funding streams into local authorities to ensure the recycling rate increases again.

“As an industry, we need a mature conversation about how we can implement EPR and Direct Charging systems that provide funds to the relevant parts of the system, enabling Producers to meet their obligations and ensure a step change in the recycling habits of people.”

LARAC highlights how much the green waste recycling rate can impact on the overall rate and that is largely influenced by weather. LARAC suggests that this shows a tonnage based measure is not ideal and that other metrics should be considered in future.

LARAC is pleased to see that the amount of food waste collected by councils has increased in the past year, showing the call for mandatory targets in this area are misplaced and not needed.

CIWM Says

CIWM’s chief executive, Dr Colin Church, said: “After strong progress for more than a decade, it is disappointing to see the UK’s recycling performance starting to slip backwards.

“CIWM and other sector bodies have been predicting this for some time and Westminster must now sit up, take notice, and demonstrate its commitment to recycling.

“Difficult market conditions have affected all UK countries, with local authority funding cuts also playing a part, particularly in England. Wales and Scotland have demonstrated that clear policies, targets and focussed efforts can maintain momentum and indeed provide long term savings to councils.

“However, with England generating 83% of UK household waste they cannot do it alone. Firm endorsement of the WRAP consistency work would help, but we now need a strong push from the Westminster administration.”

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