On the road to recovery

The release of the Environment Agency’s (EA) guidance for waste authorities on ‘Recovery of Street Sweepings and Gully Emptyings’ has finally provided the much-needed clarity for local authorities on how they should deal with road sweepings and gully waste, essentially providing a definitive list of dos and don’ts for waste handlers.

The guidelines from the EA clearly outline the types of waste that qualify as non-hazardous, as well as that which is inert and the permissible disposal routes for treated and untreated street sweepings and gully waste. What is apparent from the guidance is the increased number of disposal routes that become available for treated street sweepings and gully waste, should the local authorities and recycling companies choose this route.

Potential disposal routes for treated street sweepings and gully emptyings include: use as soil substitutes or aggregates; for the reclamation, restoration or improvement of land; at an exempt facility (permitted for non-organic waste only, and only in very limited circumstances where it falls within specific Chapter 19 codes to which restricted definitions have been applied); recycled as product and sold, for example to the aggregates, road making or construction industries (on a case-by-case basis, requiring an end-of-waste submission to the EA); and composting (only if the compost site is permitted to accept output waste from the first treatment process, and not to make quality compost certified to PAS 100 or the Compost Quality Protocol).

Untreated street sweepings and gully emptyings do not fare as well from the guidelines and have limited or expensive routes for disposal. While non-hazardous landfill is permitted, inert landfill (even when mixed with inerts), composting and exempt facilities are not permitted disposal routes for such waste.

Some local authorities have expressed their concerns to the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) that the new guidelines could place an additional cost burden on councils. What these local authorities are failing to recognise is the benefits that are to be gained through effective treatment/recycling of street sweepings and gully emptyings. By investing in the correct recycling equipment, local authorities, or their waste management sub-contractors, can take action to avoid escalating disposal costs as landfill tax is set to rise to £80 per tonne by 2014 (along with landfill gate fees) as landfill void declines.

Gully waste and road sweepings have proven to be a valuable resource with many materials being recovered for reuse. Recovering these materials does not only offer a sustainable solution for this waste and help organisations increase their recycling ratios, but also offers significant economical savings.

A good indication of what can be achieved through embracing the guidance and careful selection of the correct treatment or recycling technology comes in the form of the recent installation of a recycling plant in Wolverhampton, West Midlands. The plant has been built to receive and recycle waste from a number of local authorities based in the West and East Midlands region. Three hundred thousand tonnes will be diverted from landfill as a result of the installation, delivering savings of £10 million over seven years, with recycling rates of the participating authorities being boosted by around three per cent.

Those local authorities that are concerned with the cost implications as a result of the guidance document produced by the EA should take time now to consider the results reported from recycling plants such as the one in Wolverhampton and assess whether they can afford not to recycle road sweepings and gully waste from here forward.