England will not reach a 65% municipal recycling target without an increase in the recycling of waste from non-household sources.
That’s according to Claire Shrewsbury, head of government and communities at resources charity WRAP, who made the comment during her presentation at the ‘Resources and Waste Strategy Unwrapped’ conference in London yesterday.
Addressing delegates during a session on consistency, she said: “It’s not just about household, we’ve talked a lot this morning about household and I just wanted to point out, obviously it’s municipal waste we’re talking about going forward.
“So we need to think about that when we think about consistency, about collections as well.”
And, Ms Shrewsbury suggested that increasing recycling rates for municipal businesses should be prioritised to drive up municipal recycling. “We can see that we can get to the required 65% and over and above. For the household, you can see there is material there to be had, but often, actually the biggest prize is that non-household material, which is why in all of this we shouldn’t lose sight of that.”
According to Ms Shrewsbury, about two million businesses fall into the municipal waste category, and represent around 20 million tonnes of waste.
Non-household sources – or ‘household-like’ waste comes from a range of businesses as well as health and educational establishments, and are included under the heading of municipal waste, she explained.
letsrecycle.com understands that in order to reach the 65% municipal target, non-household sources of waste might have to reach about 80% and local authority collected household waste could need to reach around a 53% recycling level. This approach would still mean that high recycling rates such as 65% at some councils would be needed to help compensate for lower levels at other local authorities.
Ms Shrewsbury outlined some of the work WRAP had been carrying out with businesses. She said: “We’ve been doing some work at the moment on engaging those SME companies to try to understand from them how we are going to help increase recycling from these types of businesses.
WRAP workshops with business representatives have identified a number of barriers to recycling, such as restricted space, a lack of understanding of the recycling system, and “an assumption that they don’t produce enough of this material to actually warrant having any sort of collection,” she explained.
Ms Shrewsbury spoke about other issues including the potential for local authorities to be required to offer free garden waste collections – which Defra is due to consult on later this year (see letsrecycle.com story).
On green waste she warned that charging for garden waste across England could see a 4% reduction in the recycling rate. Currently, 54% of local authorities are charging for this service.
“When you move to subscription the take-up is only around 35%,” she said. “Our modelling shows, we think that we could lose about 4% of the recycling rate if we all went to charging for garden [waste]. So there’s some really compelling evidence to suggest that.”
In questions following her presentation, Ms Shrewsbury was tackled on the impact of collecting garden waste for free as well as providing a nationwide food waste collection service.
Beverley Simonson, local authority support manager at Resource London, raised concerns that collecting food waste and garden waste could lead to an increase in commingling of the two materials.
However, Ms Shrewsbury did agree that offering free garden waste collections and separate food collections could lead to councils to collect these two materials together. Ms Simonson said this could “drive up IVC and drive down AD when we’re supposed to be doing it the other way round”.
Ms Shrewsbury replied: “I don’t really disagree and I think that’s part of the consultation process is making sure that those views and inputs are put back.”
Overall, the WRAP official appeared to cast some doubt on whether the UK would reach its recycling targets in the short term, suggesting that they could even fall. She remarked: “Might we make the 2025 target of 55%? How quickly are local authorities realistically going to move at the moment knowing that EPR money might not come through until 2023? So we could see a dip in recycling rates.”
Giving a local authority perspective, Dan Roberts vice-chair of LARAC, said he felt encouraged by the Resources and Waste Strategy and said in the past there has been an “excessive” focus on collections yet “missing the bigger picture”.
On consistent collections, Mr Roberts said: “It would be fiscally and morally irresponsible for us to be collecting materials for which there’s no outlets.”
LARAC’s vice-chair went on to claim that that local authorities “have effectively been disproportionately burdened with dealing with packaging waste” and called for more funding.
“When we talk about plateauing recycling rates, given that we will have a 60% cut in funding over 10 years, I think plateauing is not a bad outset personally from the pressures that we face,” he said. “Issues such as chargeable garden waste come about because of these cuts,” he added.
Two other panellists during the session – Kinza Sutton, marketing & public affairs manager Europe, at packaging manufacturer and recycler, Plastipak and Sarah Raymond, national account & development manager, Palm Recycling – outlined the need for consistent quality in infeed material for their plants.
Ms Sutton remarked that bales of bottles which Plastipak receives can often contain just 35% of what they need. And, she warned that in trying to ‘solve’ the plastics problem: “Ironically by recycling more we could shoot ourselves in the foot”.
However, Richard Kirkman, chief technology & innovation officer at Veolia, disagreed that quality is the problem and rather the types of bottles received, and he added that the price paid for the material would reflect this.
Ms Raymond explained that Palm Recycling is missing quality in its infeed material. “For us, the fibre sector, what we need is a consistent infeed quality materials. And, I think for us it’s really for us to support an industry and to drive UK investment when that quality’s not there.”
In conclusion, Mr Kirkman said: “It’s not just about consistency is it, it’s about all the other things that are happening. So it’s about making products differently, it’s about incentivising people to make things more recyclable in the first place, that’s what the modulated fee is supposed to do and together those different things will deliver something. If you just do consistency in collections it will deliver nothing, except higher costs. It’s all about different policies coming together.”
Other panellists during the session were Anna Turrell, head of sustainability, Nestlé and Kevin Vyse, senior packaging technologist, Marks and Spencer plc. The debate was chaired by the Resource Association’s Ray Georgeson.