Resource Use

EPR high on industry wish list after UK recycling fall

Members of the waste industry are calling for greater producer responsibility and signs of a clear direction for recycling policy in England, after the UK’s recycling rate fell for the first time.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra’s) ‘UK Statistics on Waste’ report, released yesterday (15 December), showed that the UK household recycling rate fell to 44.3 per cent in 2015 (down 1.6 per cent on 2014’s figure), the first time the rate has officially dropped since Defra began publishing statistics specifically for waste from household origin in 2010.

A number of voices from the industry have called for the government to sit up and take notice of the figures, as a post-Brexit landscape requiring a fully-functioning strategy for waste gets closer.

‘Fresh thinking’ needed to resuscitate English recycling

Responding to the fall the UK’s recycling rate, David Palmer-Jones, CEO of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, said: “Fresh thinking is needed to resuscitate England’s declining recycling performance. At SUEZ, we believe extended producer responsibility (EPR) can be a key driver for raising recycling rates.”

EPR high on industry wish list after UK recycling fall
David Palmer-Jones
Palmer-Jones also suggested that the UK’s future position away from the EU will require a better recycling rate and performance as the waste management industry seeks to gain as much value as possible from its product.

“The more we recycle, the more value we extract from our waste”, he said. “That means more investment and more jobs with, in a post-Brexit world, domestically recycled materials replacing scarce (and often imported) virgin raw materials.

“Higher recycling rates can only be achieved through a combination of higher capture rates during waste collection, lower levels of contamination, and high-quality recyclates that are accepted as virgin material substitutes. Above all the entire chain needs to be properly funded. Cuts to waste management services [have] been one consequences of local authority budgets under immense stress. Inevitably, recycling performance has suffered.”

More disappointing statistics’ to come without government support

Steve Lee, Director General of Resources & Waste UK (R&WUK), the partnership between the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) and the Environmental Services Association (ESA), said: “The drop in overall recycling rate for the UK is not a surprise. Ongoing austerity for local councils, who have had to pull back on some waste and recycling services, continued weak markets for recyclates and, most recently, tougher standards for counting and reporting recycling have all made their mark.

“These pressures are likely to continue, and without any additional government intervention, the 2020 target of recycling half of our household waste will be missed and we could slip back even further.”

Mr Waste moves on
Steve Lee
Although recycling in England continues to struggle, Lee did point to the continued good performance in other parts of the UK as a sign that all is not lost: “Today’s statistics do show some reasons to be positive. Welsh recycling continues to climb and is one of the best in Europe. Scotland now performs better in household recycling than England and waste to landfill across the UK continues to drop. There is also more detailed analysis needed. The total tonnage of garden waste collected has fallen while overall recycled and composted tonnage has stayed the same.

“We now anticipate an important period of strategy development in the UK, including the National Infrastructure Assessment and the UK Industrial Strategy. This sector has a huge role to play in supply of feedstock materials for industries in this country, but we will need support and new approaches to be able to deliver on that promise.”

Echoing Palmer-Jones’s calls for EPR, Lee said: “Most importantly, we need to see a shift towards greater responsibility on manufacturers and suppliers for wastes arising from their products and services – so-called extended producer responsibility – and a more rigorous application of the ‘polluter pays’ principle. That could include moving waste services to a more ‘utility’ type footing, including direct charging in some form.

“We have an important opportunity to shape government thinking and future waste and resource management performance in this country. If we fail to seize this opportunity or if government fails to support it, we will see more disappointing statistics in the future.”

CIWM’s Chief Executive Dr Colin Church, who joined the organisation after heading up waste and recycling policy at Defra, added: “Westminster must now sit up, take notice, and demonstrate its commitment to recycling.

“Difficult market conditions have affected all UK countries, with local authority funding cuts also playing a part, particularly in England. Wales and Scotland have demonstrated that clear policies, targets and focused efforts can maintain momentum and indeed provide long-term savings to councils. However, with England generating 83 per cent of UK household waste they cannot do it alone. Firm endorsement of the WRAP consistency work would help, but we now need a strong push from the Westminster administration.”

‘Undeniable gap’ between England and other countries caused by lack of strategy

Analysing the figures, Jacob Rindegren, ESA Recycling Policy Advisor, said: “Most of the reported drop in England's household recycling comes from a drop in organic waste composted. This could be driven by something as beyond our control as weather patterns, although the increasing introduction of charging by local authorities probably also played a part.

“While dry recycling was broadly flat, we clearly need to be doing more if we are to meet our recycling ambitions. During these times of stretched council budgets, it is vital that we put in place the right systems and infrastructure to boost recycling. ESA believes that producer responsibility has a big part to play in this regard. This is a message we will continue to press with Defra in 2017.”

EPR high on industry wish list after UK recycling fall
Ray Georgeson
Ray Georgeson, Chief Executive of the Resource Association, whilst warning that huge variations in reporting practices should lead to some pause in commenting on the detail of recycling rate statistics, said: “There is an important point of difference that there is now an undeniable gap between those jurisdictions that have a proactive and clear recycling strategy (Wales and Scotland) and those that don't, particularly England which is of course where the rates are declining.

“The lack of clear direction, focused measures to deliver greater consistency and the lack of transparency in what happens to recycling are all contributory factors in the declining English recycling, combined with the ever tightening of local authority budgets. 

“We call for a policy and strategy reboot and would urge ministers to tackle some of the low cost interventions that could make a difference to recycling participation – such as action to publish more detail on the end destination of recycling.”

Research by the Resource Association carried out this summer found that 77 per cent of English residents don’t know what happens to their recycling once it has been collected, and that 44 per cent think they would recycle more actively if they had more information on where their waste went and what it was used for.

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