Simon Weston, Director of Raw Materials at the Confederation of Paper Industries, gives his view on the award of a commingling contract to Veolia by Northampton Borough Council.
OPINION: Having read the recent letsrecycle.com article ‘Northampton to Commingle under 10-year Veolia Deal’, I and my colleagues at the Confederation of Paper Industries are astonished, baffled and dismayed by the decision reached by Northampton Borough Council to award a 10-year environmental services contract which includes the commingled collection of its dry mixed recyclables.
With the recovered paper market teetering on the brink of massive over-supply, and the waste management industry openly talking about calling force majeure on council contracts that supply them with poor quality material, why would such an agreement be in anyone’s interest at this time?
China’s recent ban on mixed papers and stringent quality requirements on other paper grades means material collected in Northampton will be doubly difficult to market. If the quality is not right it won’t sell, leaving the town, whose local university boasts a world leading position in training environmental managers, to incinerate or landfill resources that should rightly be put to better use.
The adoption of commingling represents failure by the local authority to understand and communicate the financial, social and environmental benefits of better recycling; a loss to itself and its citizens. The fact that a council wants to make things easy for its residents doesn’t make this decision right or sensible.
Even if you set aside the costs of providing a new set of bins and presumably collecting and disposing of the existing containers, and ignore recent calls from trade associations and NGOs including the ESA, Recycling Association and WRAP that it is time to focus on quality rather than quantity; moving from a kerbside sort to a commingled recycling service is purposely gathering low quality material that may end up being exported to low cost economies because we are not prepared to treat it sufficiently ourselves – this may not be illegal, but it is certainly immoral.
Evidence is mounting that the days of stacking poor quality recycled material high and selling it cheap (or at all) are coming to an end.
Citizens need to engage and understand the benefits of recycling and be encouraged to do the right thing, not just do the easy thing. Let’s be clear, if you can’t make a quality product you may as well not have bothered! The paper industry firmly believes that a minimum of dual stream collections is necessary now and will be necessary in the future, with commingling being only a port of last call.
WRAP’s Consistency Framework provides the basis for future collection models, with evidence suggesting that most local authorities would benefit financially from separating recyclate. The recently completed IMPACTPapeRec project led by the Confederation of European Paper Industries and funded by the European Union has issued guidelines to local authorities, explaining the benefits of separate collection and giving exemplars. Its Best Practice Handbook is available through its website: http://impactpaperec.eu/en/home/
We lament the continuing move towards commingling by local authorities and suggest it will only lead to further challenges in the future. Decision makers need to understand global markets and economics, and the wider costs and implications of the decisions they make for their citizens, the environment and a circular economy.
[OPINION FROM: Simon Weston, Director of Raw Materials at the Confederation of Paper Industries.]