Groundhog Day For England’s Recycling League Tables

DPJThe recycling industry’s own Groundhog Day – with Defra’s announcement of the latest household recycling statistics – repeats itself for yet another year, says David Palmer-Jones CEO, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK


For those who haven’t seen it, the Bill Murray comedy “Groundhog Day” tells the tale of an arrogant TV weatherman trapped infinitely living the same day over and over again, until he is forced to re-examine his life and his priorities.

For many in the waste industry, myself included, Defra’s annual publication of England’s household recycling statistics has started to feel a little like our own Groundhog Day, although, unlike Murray’s self-centred meteorologist, we know that there are only a finite number of remaining attempts to get the result we want.

This year’s release of the annual data, on 2 December (unlike Christmas it gets later and later each year), showed yet another decimal point percentage improvement, year-on-year, and pointed to a relatively poor start to 2015… which is possibly why Defra opted to report on a calendar year basis, resulting in a slightly better headline figure? Call me cynical if you wish…

This perennial occurrence has a sense of deja vu about it, because the trend of continuing stagnation is now well established and commentators across our industry – myself included – are once more offering the same warnings to government to “act before it’s too late” and we lose any hope of hitting our European targets (which, at their current levels are, in my view, more of a moral obligation than a legal one).

Determined not to just offer a warning this year, but some pragmatic suggestions, SUEZ asked SLR Consulting to examine municipal recycling, both in England and abroad, and produce the “At This Rate” report, which put a precise percentage point impact analysis against key policies implemented at a national level.

Since the publication of the report in September, we’ve been advocating mandatory separate food collections for all local authorities, where it’s practical to implement such a service; fortnightly residual collections to complement this; and a centrally-funded, targeted, communications drive across England’s local authorities to increase participation.

SLR’s educated estimate of the impact of these three measures being delivered widely across the country would get us more or less (with a bit more massaging) past our 2020 target.

Or, government could simply classify acceptable uses for bottom ash recycling as contributing towards the household recycling rate, and this would get us to within a few decimal places of 50 percent. Perhaps a more likely scenario?

However, I’m sure many would argue that this isn’t quite in the spirit of the target, so best to do both… travel comfortably over the 2020 line and towards the newly announced, and revised-down, 2030 target of 65 percent.

The European Commission’s revised Circular Economy Package announcement, allied with COP 21, resulted in a busy week for waste watchers in December and more attention paid by the mainstream media to waste and recycling matters than is usual. I just hope that this continues; that we are able to capitalise on this by offering something new to say next year; that Defra and the Government are able to re-examine their priorities; and that we’re not left re-living Groundhog Day once more.


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