The public are frustrated by the complexity of recycling, the government has been told by the National Infrastructure Commission, in a report published today (10 July).
And the NIC has also highlighted its research which found that 79% of people without a food waste bin at present, would recycle their food if given the opportunity.
The report covers a range of topics from water supply, carbon emissions and transport as well as issues around waste infrastructure.
Commenting on ways to reduce carbon, the NIC said: “In the waste sector, too, there are lower cost, lower carbon options especially for food waste and plastics. There is public support for greater recycling, but frustration with the complexity of the process.”
Its study also found that it is cheaper to collect food waste separately and process it in anaerobic digesters, rather than send it to energy from waste (EfW) plants.
“The Commission’s analysis shows universal food waste collection would avoid the need to build between one and three energy from waste plants between now and 2050. It would save up to £400m in capital costs and £1.1bn in operational costs for local authorities in total between 2020 and 2050.36 37,” the NIC stated.
The comments come in the first ever report by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), an independent body set up in 2015 to provide clear advice to the Government, on how best to meet the country’s long-term infrastructure needs. The report called for 50% of all electricity to be from renewable sources by 2030, as part of a transition to a highly renewable generation mix.
Another aspect of the waste sector the report covered was plastic. It called for tough targets on plastic recycling, including 75% of it to be recycled by 2030, in order to mitigate the need to build additional waste management infrastructure.
Better packaging design, clearer labelling, fewer hard to recycle plastics, and tougher recycling targets (of 65% of municipal waste and 75% of plastic packaging by 2030) could all reduce residual waste and help reduce the need for additional infrastructure, according to the report.
For the waste sector the NIC said the government should establish a “clear two symbol labelling” for products across the UK, simply saying if it is recyclable or not. It also called for a “consistent national standard of recycling” and restrictions on the use of hard-to-recycle plastic packaging (PVC
and polystyrene) by 2025.
Commenting on the waste side of the report, David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, said that he felt the NIC rightly stated that more needs to be done to ensure plastics do not end up in EfW plants.
“It is in everyone’s interest to cut the amount of rubbish we produce and the NIC rightly determines that more should be done to recycle and remove plastics from energy from waste,” he stated.
Mr Palmer-Jones added: “This should be done at the design stage through strong policies that favour better design, recycling, re-use and minimisation. These policies would signal the government’s ambition to the market and unlock the billions of investment required to make the most of our waste.”
For the waste sector, it is recommended that new national rules for what can and cannot be recycled are introduced, with restrictions on the hardest-to-recycle plastics, aimed at increasing rates and reducing the amount of plastics going to incinerators.
“This would also mean that all food waste is separated making it available to create biogas, so it can be used to heat people’s homes and potentially as a transport fuel,” it stated.
Chairman of the NIC, Sir John Armitt, stated as part of the release that the targets are not unreasonable.
“The whole purpose of the UK’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment is to think beyond the technologies of today and to ensure we can make the most of future innovations. It’s why it’s not just a one-off but something we will be repeating every five years to ensure we remain on the front foot,” he explained.
Mr Armitt added: “This is not some unaffordable wish-list of projects: it sets a clear direction for how to meet the country’s future infrastructure needs, and makes a realistic assessment of what can and should be delivered within the stated aim of Ministers for steady and continued investment over the coming years.”