“Political Decision” Held Back UK’s Landfill Diversion

Helmur-MaurerThe European Commission’s Helmut Maurer (pictured) delivered his keynote speech at this year’s CIWM Resources Conference Cymru (9 March), with one message being that the UK might’ve been in a position where it was sending as little waste to landfill as Germany.

Speaking to delegates attending the conference this week, Maurer said that the reason the UK currently sends more of its waste to landfill than Germany, for example, was due to a “political decision that wasn’t taken at the time”. But he says the country can now make the decision to achieve zero waste to landfill.

Maurer joined the European Commission in 2002 as principal lawyer, first working in Directorate General Employment on European employment law and policy. In 2006 he joined Directorate General Environment working on waste law implementation issues and waste policy.

Landfill Tax

Spring-boarding from the Welsh minister for Finance and Government Business, Jane Hutt’s earlier session regarding the country’s Landfill Diversion Tax, Maurer went on to say that having a landfill tax is useful as an economic deterrent, but “the best landfill tax is the one you don’t need in the first place.”

“We have shifted from a quality economy to a mass economy… and that’s something we have to deal with. It’s not about more recycling. It’s about products and product designing…”

He said that preventing waste has nothing at all to do with waste; it’s actually about producing the right products that are recyclable, repairable and refurbishable.

“We have shifted from a quality economy to a mass economy… and that’s something we have to deal with. It’s not about more recycling. It’s about products and product designing… Preparation for reuse and recycling is an issue that has to be dealt with – and we are dealing with it – but it is not the most important thing.”

Targets

With regards to the targets set in the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package, Mauer said that we need to remind ourselves that the targets are a “wish list”, and a “political declaration” to define where you want to go in the future. “They are needed, but they are not the job,” he said.

He then went on to talk about redefining the calculation method for what is defined as recycled, saying that what is collected for recycling today is being counted as recycling but it often goes into incineration, and “incineration has nothing to do with recycling”.

“So we’re going to have to be more honest with ourselves,” he said. “But if we have one way of calculating recycling it makes attaining the targets much more difficult.”

Separate Collections

On the subject of separate collections, Maurer said that the better the waste is separated at the source, the cleaner the recyclate is, the easier the sorting and the higher the yield. He then went on the say that pay by weight is the most effective recycling model.

He referred to a study by the Commission that revealed the highest yield for recycling is not commingled, but separate collections.

Setting out recommendations, the report concludes that strict separate collections (one recyclable in one bin) “usually leads to higher recycling rates”, and that mandatory separate collection systems for certain municipal waste fractions, eg, waste paper, in addition to packaging waste, or mandatory separate collection of bio-waste, should be introduced.

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2013 landfilling figures (click to enlarge)

The report states that this usually results in higher recycling levels, following the study, which covered collection systems that impose strict separation of waste fractions and those that commingle recyclable wastes.

“There is a big dispute, and the UK as a whole has declared its position – England more so – is that commingled collections a re a sound thing to do… Each citizen has a share of the responsibility, but we need to set the framework so they are able.”

He said there are very good examples, but it is clear pay as you throw was the most effective. “So don’t tell me commingled is fantastic,” he said, “It can be much improved.”

In concluding, Maurer said that the Commission had not put the Circular Economy Package on the table as a “readymade blueprint that all you need to do is sign”. He said it is a starting point for member states to find proper solutions.

CIWM’s Resources Conference Cymru 2016 focused on clarifying the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package and targets within it, exploring what these mean in practical terms and revealing real-life solutions and best practice.

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