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Biffa calls for separate collections of paper and card in consistency report

Waste management company Biffa has called on the government to recommend the separate collection of paper and card from households in addition to food waste in its eventual core materials collection model.

The recommendation comes as part of the latest issue of Biffa’s Reality Check series, ‘Recycling Collections: For the real world’, released yesterday (23 April 2019). The report sets out Biffa’s key principles for a future consistent recycling collections model and includes its recommended models for both household and business waste collections. This comes in response to the government’s plans to reinvigorate flatlining recycling rates through improving the consistency of recycling collections, as laid out in the Resources and Waste Strategy released in December 2018.

Biffa calls for separate collections of paper and card in consistency reportThe UK’s recycling rate currently stands at 45.7 per cent, some way short of the EU’s 50 per cent target for 2020. Great strides will have to be made to put the UK on course to meet its commitments under the EU’s Circular Economy Package (CEP), which sets a 65 per cent municipal recycling rate target by 2035 and mandates the separate collection of bio-waste (including food waste) by 2023.

Municipal waste not only includes household waste, but business waste as well, both of which amount to around 30 million tonnes of waste generated in the UK every year. Business recycling in particular varies depending on the sector, with some companies recycling over 80 per cent of their waste at the top end, while others recycle none. Unlike in Scotland, Wales and Northern ireland, the responsibility for compliance lies with the waste collector, not the producer.

In the face of stagnant recycling rates, consistency is increasingly being discussed – creating a common model for which materials are collected and how they are collected – especially as confusion among householders and consumers over what is recyclable often identified as a key barrier to increased recycling.

Indeed, private polling by Biffa has found that less than one fifth of respondents find recycling labels on consumer packaging easy to understand, while only 30 per cent think recycling information at work is clear and easy to understand.

To address this, the government indicated in the Resources and Waste Strategy its intention to ‘legislate to allow the government to specify a core set of materials to be collected by all local authorities and waste operators’ and to ‘consult on which materials should comprise this core set, and which collection systems would be most effective at preserving material quality’. A public consultation on the government’s proposals, which include separate food waste collections for all households and free garden waste collections, is currently ongoing.

Delivering ‘much needed change’

In response to government moves to increase consistency, Biffa has recommended a set of key principles that it feels should govern any new system, while also outlining its suggested models for the collection of household and business waste. Biffa’s key principles are:

  1. Be clear on what can and can’t be recycled – labelling at source is critical;
  2. Simplify sorting methods and collections frequency for households – make it easy;
  3. Don’t be over prescriptive for businesses – it’s not ‘one size fits all’; and
  4. Keep food waste separate – there is a huge opportunity to recycle it and generate energy.

Biffa calls for separate collections of paper and card in consistency report
Biffa's recommended household waste collection model.
These principles are applied to Biffa’s recommended collection models. For household waste, the waste management company recommends that mixed recycling (plastics, metals, glass) be collected in one bin – a collection method known as co-mingled as opposed to kerbside sort, where each material stream is collected in separate containers – while paper and card should be collected separately, though this decision should rest with individual local authorities. All dry recyclables are then to be taken to a materials processing facility (MRF) to be sorted and processed before being sent on to be reprocessed into secondary raw materials.

Biffa’s model further recommends that food waste and garden waste should be collected separately from each other, to be sent to anaerobic digestion (AD) and composting facilities respectively, though they can be collected together and sent for in-vessel composting (IVC) where such a facility is available. General residual waste should be treated to generate energy from waste (EfW) and landfilled where EfW is not available.

Biffa calls for separate collections of paper and card in consistency report
Biffa's recommended business waste collection model.
For business waste, mixed recycling (all dry recyclables) should be collected in one container, unless volumes of individual streams are sufficient to warrant individual collections. Food waste should be collected separately and sent for processing at an AD facility, while general residual waste should be sent for EfW, or landfill where such a facility is unavailable.

In addition to its collection recommendations, Biffa states that labelling regarding an item’s recyclability and its recycled content should be made clearer and simpler, to better inform consumer purchasing choices and recycling decisions. The company adds that it needs to be made ‘clear and unambiguous’ what can and what cannot be recycled, with separate collection points for hard-to-recycle items such as disposable coffee cups and black PET food trays a possible solution where specialist recycling routes exist.

Furthermore, Biffa urges the government to facilitate eco-design standards that will see packaging and products designed with recyclability at their end of life in mind, which should deliver higher recycling levels.

Commenting on the report, Michael Topham, Chief Executive of Biffa, said: “The way we organise our recycling efforts as a society is of fundamental importance. We need a system that is environmentally ambitious, easy to use and cost effective. We firmly believe that these realistic and practical recommendations, if implemented, will help government deliver a system that can drive much needed change.”

Jeff Rhodes, Head of Environmental and External Affairs at Biffa, added: “There needs to be simpler and more consistent packaging at source, designed for recyclability and using more recycled content, together with clear and consistent labelling for consumers. This will feed into consistency at the collection end, reducing confusion about what can and can’t be recycled across the board. Personal responsibility is as important as producer responsibility.”

You can read Biffa’s new report, ‘Recycling Collections: For the real world’, in full on the company’s website.

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