Concern over councils’ ‘flexibility’ on collections

The chief executive of the Recycling Association, Dr Simon Ellin, has expressed concerns over the possibility of continued commingled council collections in the future.

Dr Ellin says there are 'no circumstances' where plastic film and beverage cartons could be collected with paper

Dr Ellin said Defra’s statement that councils could have “some flexibility” under the Environment Act to collect recyclables together “fills me with horror”.

He said there were “no circumstances” where plastic film and beverage cartons could be collected with paper, as it is “impossible” to separate them “sufficiently for recycling purposes”.

Defra told letsrecycle.com this week that the Act allows some flexibility for local authorities to collect dry recyclable waste streams together to take into account “particular local circumstances” (see letsrecycle.com story).

The government department was responding to the Local Government’s Association’s fears that councils could be held “under threat” of a judicial review should their assessments conclude that the separate collection of recyclables was not technically, environmentally, and economically practicable (TEEP) (see letsrecycle.com story).

This fills me with horror

– Dr Simon Ellin, The Recycling Association

In comments to letsrecycle.com, Dr Ellin said: “When plastic film and beverage cartons are added to core collections, there are no circumstances where this can be collected with paper as it is impossible to separate them sufficiently for recycling purposes.

“UK mills do not want this material for recycling, and it is illegal for export according to the regulator.”

Exports

Dr Ellin drew attention to the recent case where Biffa Waste Services Ltd was ordered to pay £1.69 million after being found guilty of breaching regulations over the export of mixed paper to Asia in 2018 and 2019 (see letsrecycle.com story).

Dr Simon Ellin has been CEO of the Recycling Association since 2010

He said: “We are still net exporters of fibre, and, in the recent Biffa court case, the Environment Agency’s prosecution was significantly based around photographs of individual pieces of plastic film present in the mixed papers.

“I have also been involved in Environment Agency sampling procedures where they have pulled out beverage cartons as an illegal outthrow for export purposes.

“Is it disingenuous then for Defra to give local authorities any flexibility here, particularly if their regulator then proceeds to prosecute exporters as a result of their weak stance.”

‘Stoking the fire’

Dr Ellin suggested that if a local authority could not collect beverage cartons separately then they should not collect them at all.

The government wants local authorities to collect recyclable waste streams, including fibre, separately from each other

“Defra are truly stoking the fire here,” he said. “If a local authority is unable to separately collect paper from film and beverage cartons in extreme circumstances, for example high rise flats, then they should either not collect fibre, or preferably not collect film and beverage cartons.

“Furthermore, the whole idea of extended producer responsibility is to provide the funding for fit-for-purpose council collection systems. Economic circumstances therefore should not come into the equation.”

Dr Ellin previously clashed with local authorities in July, when he threw his weight behind the proposals to collect dry recyclable materials separately (see letsrecycle.com story). Then, he was responding to a submission to the consultation on consistent collections from the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC).

LARAC said it was concerned about the “potentially prescriptive nature” of the Defra proposals and claimed there were “numerous examples” of fibre of a suitable quality being collected with one or more other materials and supplied to end markets with no issue.

The Recycling Association told letsrecycle.com that LARAC’s response “missed the point” of why the source separation of fibre was needed.

Separate collections

The recently passed Environment Act stipulates that a core set of materials including plastic, paper and card, glass, metal, and food waste must be collected from every home and business in England.

Defra wants local authorities to collect these recyclable waste streams separately from each other and residual waste, claiming this results in better quality material which thus receives a higher price.

Where it is not technically, environmentally, and economically practicable to collect the streams separately, local authorities can decide to collect two or more together upon completion of a written assessment.

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