The Environment Agency, Local Government Association and Waste & Resources Action Programme today urged the public to continue recycling during the festive season, after carrying out research suggesting that prices for materials have stabilised.
The picture is of a fragile but stable market, in which materials are still moving
Liz Goodwin, WRAP
While the downturn in demand for materials began in October, industry surveys conducted this week by WRAP and the LGA, along with Environment Agency figures on applications to store recyclable materials, indicate that prices are less volatile than they have been – although the market remains fragile.
WRAP surveyed 200 organisations, including local authorities, waste management companies, reprocessors and exporters, to determine market confidence and prices before Christmas. Although views were mixed, the overall sentiment was that markets are recovering, albeit not to previous price levels.
Liz Goodwin, chief executive at WRAP said: “Our market intelligence suggests prices for recovered materials are slowly stabilising and more materials are now moving through the export market.
“A cross cutting theme across all materials is that materials of varying quality are attracting lower prices because more effort and expense has to go into sorting and cleaning them to produce the equivalent of virgin raw material. The positive result of this is that quality material is more valuable. It is moving at good volumes and generally has less trouble finding end markets. The picture is of a fragile but stable market, in which materials are still moving.
“The overall picture from the survey is that people can still be confident in using the recycling service provided by their local authority, as the materials they put out are still being recycled. Local Authorities will continue to provide guidance to householders on which materials can be recycled in their area,” she added.
A snapshot LGA survey, also conducted this week, found 95% of local authority services are continuing as normal despite the fall in prices for recyclable materials. Only 5% of local authorities are having to store recyclable materials for any longer than usual.
Cllr Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA Environment Board, said: “Local people deserve great credit for boosting this country's recycling rates so dramatically in recent years. The economic downturn has presented challenges to local authorities, but the vast majority of recycling services have been completely unaffected.
“The Christmas period generates millions of tonnes of extra rubbish, and it is vital that residents continue to recycle as much of their waste as possible. The alternative would be for the rubbish to go into landfill, which is expensive for the council taxpayer and damaging to the environment,” he added.
During November, the Environment Agency issued new guidance for waste contactors, businesses and local authorities on how to secure extra storage for recyclable materials, should it be needed by during this period of reduced demand (see letsrecycle.com story).
Prior to the market downturn, the Environment Agency averaged just under 20 registrations per week, allowing storage of low-risk recyclable materials such as paper, cardboard, cans and plastic in a secure place. In the four weeks after issuing the new guidance, registrations numbered 29, 27, 16 and most recently 13 in the week ending December 12th – a fact which was highlighted earlier this week by Environment minister Jane Kennedy (see letsrecycle.com story).
The Environment Agency's head of waste, Liz Parkes, said: “We haven't seen any significant increase in the number of registrations that allow storage of recyclables. But the guidance is there to assist waste operators and local authorities if they need it and to ensure the environment, public health and the recyclability of those materials is not undermined.
“Local authorities already work closely with their waste contractors to ensure good management systems are in place, so that well-sorted, quality, recyclable materials can retain a market. And quality is the key word with recyclable materials,” she added.
Main findings of WRAP's survey of 200 organisations
• 'Mixed' grades of materials (of varying quality) are typically attracting lower prices because more effort (and expense) has to go into sorting and cleaning materials to produce the equivalent of virgin raw material.
• Quality materials are still moving at good volumes, generally having less trouble finding end markets and securing long term contracts.
• The market consensus is that mixed paper prices seem to have bottomed out although prices are substantially down on a year ago. High quality material is fetching a premium of £10 a tonne.
• Glass prices are seeing a modest upwards momentum. Glass has remained largely unaffected by the current market turbulence.
• It's a mixed picture for plastics with prices picking up for mixed polymers and High-Density PolyEthylene (HDPE) but little movement in the market for Polyethylene terephthalate (PET). There is a still a good level of demand for bottles going back into closed loop recycling (being made back into bottles).
• For aluminium, the perception of market participants feeding into this survey was that prices are stable but future downward pressure is likely in the near term. Steel traders are now finding alternative markets for cans. While mixed can (steel and aluminium) prices are depressed there are some trades at significantly higher prices being reported.
LGA survey responses from 60 local authorities
– Is the fall in prices for recyclable materials having an affect on your council's ability to offer recycling services to residents this month (December)?
No – 57 (95%)
Yes – 3 (5%)
– Are you having to store materials for any longer than is normal at this time of year because of the problems in the market?
No – 57 (95%)
Yes – 3 (5%)
Environment Agency (Paragraph 17) exemption registrations allowing storage of recyclable materials
October weekly average: 20
03/11/08 – 07/11/08 = 19
10/11/08 – 14/11/08 = 22
17/11/08 – 21/11/08 = 29
24/11/08 – 28/11/08 = 27
01/12/08 – 05/12/08 = 16
08/12/08 – 12/12/08 = 13
• Total for 01/01/2007 to 31/12/2007 was 840 registered sites
• Total for 2008 (to end of Nov) is 859 registered sites