Georgeson calls for recycling rate clarity

Ray Georgeson
Resource Association Chief Executive Ray Georgeson has called for clarity in determining where recycling is counted and the description of targets contained in the European Circular Economy Package (CEP).

Speaking at a stakeholder debate hosted by the Resource Association in Brussels last week (25 May), Georgeson said that, in their current guise, European recycling league tables are “worthless” and that in developing the action plan for the CEP, the European Commission (EC) has a “golden opportunity to finally end the confusion and discrepancies in the measurement of recycling across Europe”.

Though it may lead to a short-term reduction in recycling rates in some countries, consistent measurement across Europe, he said, should be based on the final point of recycling, rather than the collection for recycling. He admitted that there were obstacles to overcome to make this the universal definition, but asserted that this is the “correct and fair” point at which to measure recycling rates.

He said: “Whilst we recognise that this may be challenging to calculate across materials and reach agreement, it should not be technically impossible to do, noting the individual complexities in certain material streams. If necessary, more technical work should be commissioned to settle any issues.”

The Resource Association works to promote the value of reprocessing and recycling in the UK, and Rosalina Petrova from the EC’s DG Environment attended the event to present a technical paper on the calculation of recycling rates and contributed to the stakeholder debate, which featured representation from a number of industry representative bodies and MEPs and researchers on a cross-party basis. Nils Torvalds MEP, a shadow rapporteur for the Circular Economy Package in the European Parliament, and Eunomia Research & Consulting Chairman Dominic Hogg also took part.

Treat recycling figures with ‘integrity’

Georgeson continued with a strong challenge to the responsible politicians and EC officials to at least present recycling figures with “integrity”, if a harmonised measurement cannot be agreed.

He said: “Everyone knows that ministers in all countries do not want to be the ones that preside over reducing recycling rates, which will be a short- to medium-term consequence of correct harmonised measurement at the point of final recycling. 

“If in the final negotiations they really cannot cope with agreeing to this then at the very least, any headline recycling target of 65 per cent (or whatever it becomes) should be properly described as what it is – a ‘collection for recycling’ target, not a ‘recycling’ target. 

“This level of integrity would be an improvement on the nonsense we currently have, with an unbelievable and worthless European recycling league table where no two methods of measurement are exactly the same. It’s time to nail this one, once and for all – and do it with clarity and integrity.”

Pull measures needed

The use of ‘pull measures’ to encourage recycling was another theme that featured prominently in the debate. It is an issue that the Resource Association brought up before the publishing of the package, contributing to an industry call for more effective demand-side mechanisms to be included.

The industry has expressed disappointment that few such measures were present in December’s package, and Resource Association Chairman Peter Clayson, of DS Smith, concluded: “Targets help to set agendas and send market signals, but they must be set on a robust and equitable basis and be accompanied by packages of demand pull, fiscal and enforcement measures appropriate for each member state to turn circular economy ambition into reality.

“While the EU referendum dominates our domestic situation right now, it is business as usual in Brussels, and we felt it important to continue to contribute to the ongoing debates on the Circular Economy Package.” 

Torvalds, a member of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, which is set to release its position on the package this week, highlighted the importance of incentives and demand-pull measures to encourage recycling as well as stressing the urgency of dealing with this and other environmental challenges, stating: “We are living on borrowed money in borrowed time.”

More information about the CEP can be found in Resource’s previous article.