Finding Your Niche At HWRCs

EMMA-CLARKEHow many different recycling containers can you fit on a HWRC? In the last of the series, Resource Futures’ Emma Clarke considers what can be segregated and what is “niche”…
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With recycling rates at HWRCs falling, as discussed in the April CIWM Journal, and recycling and re-use representing a way of gaining new incomes; authorities and operators are increasingly investigating the possibility of segregating new/niche materials. Often, there are markets available locally or nationally and – space permitting – sites should aim to maximise the range of materials segregated, ideally for re-use and recycling, but also energy recovery.

Collecting niche materials, such as bicycles, mattresses and paint, at HWRCs is becoming more commonplace, but it is important to understand the operational and budgetary implications. They can arise either in very small or large quantities, both presenting their own challenges. However, niche materials can provide quick wins and the recycling or re-use of these wastes may be more main-stream than is commonly supposed.

WRAP’s HWRC Directory uses tonnages reported in WasteDataflow 2012/13 to provide an overview of which materials and items are commonly accepted and the proportion of sites/authorities that separate niche materials. HWRCs in Wales currently segregate the most types of materials, with an average of 24 different materials collected. Northern Ireland sites collect an average of 22 materials, English authorities 20 and Scottish authorities 18.

The table below shows the types of niche materials targeted at HWRCs. Co-mingled recyclables, metal cans and mixed paper/card have been excluded, as collection is likely to mirror local kerbside services.

The figures don’t tell the whole story. Paint is often collected separately, but this may be destined for energy recovery – at a cost. There are alternatives, including Community RePaint so even if you do segregate materials, it may be worth considering whether you are managing the waste as high up the waste hierarchy as possible.

The picture is similar for carpet and mattresses. In terms of both volume and weight, these items are not actually niche at all and make a significant contribution to non-recyclable waste streams. However, there are fewer waste management options available (landfill currently dominates with an estimated 85% of mattresses and ~80% of carpet sent to landfill).  Energy recovery is an option for carpets, but recycling can also be considered in some circumstances.

There are considerable opportunities for local authorities and/or third parties to increase the range of materials segregated, and even sites with limited space can accommodate extra materials through consolidating the containerisation of existing materials, or increased efficiency in the use of space. Deconstruction of items on site, such as mattresses, to extract recyclables is already taking place at some sites, particularly in Wales.

The viability of collections is determined by the availability of end markets and the proximity to sites to reduce transport costs. UK markets for some niche materials are arguably under-developed. Further research and development is required to develop markets for re-use and recycling for niche materials and WRAP provides useful and ongoing support in this area. Therefore, whilst HWRCs can provide the perfect collection infrastructure for niche materials, it may be difficult to make an economic case for segregating some materials whilst markets are still being developed.

Looking to the future, where there is long-standing market failure for niche materials, landfill bans targeted at such materials could be an effective means of increasing the coverage of segregation at HWRCs. Although this appears unlikely to occur in England in the near future, maybe the devolved nations will take a lead in this area?


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