12 December 2018 by Joshua Doherty

Waste Strategy offers ‘hope’ over stagnating recycling rates

Senior waste industry figures have said they hope measures introduced in Defra’s upcoming Resources and Waste Strategy will help to boost stagnating recycling rates.

The latest statistics on household waste and recycling were released yesterday (11 December), showing results for both the 2017 calendar year –  which is used toward EU targets –  and the 2017/18 financial year, which is traditionally used by local authorities and provides a more up-to-date picture.

REACTION (clockwise from top left): Jeff Rhodes, head of environment & external affairs at Biffa, Paul Brown, Viridor’s managing director of recycling, Paul Taylor, chief executive at FCC Environment and David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of Suez.

The 2017 calendar year figures showed household recycling rates had jumped to 45.2% – up from a rate of 44.9% in 2016 (see letsrecycle.com story), while the 2017/18 financial year (April 1 2017- March 31 2018) showed a fall of 0.3% to 44.8%, compared with the previous 12 month period (see letsrecycle.com story).

New focus

Speaking in reaction to the figures Jeff Rhodes, head of environment & external affairs at Biffa, said that with rates “settling at between 44 and 45%” for household waste in the last seven years, the company is now looking to the Strategy to provide forward direction.

“We look forward to the much anticipated new Resources & Waste Strategy, which Biffa has been working with government advisers on over the last two years,” he explained.

“With the anticipated new focus on dealing with waste at source, through measures like extended producer responsibility, designing for recyclability and clearer labelling, there is a real opportunity to deliver a fresh, comprehensive and collaborative approach, combined with changes to consumer awareness and behaviour.”

Mr Rhodes added that these “joint actions have real potential” to improve recycling rates in future, as well as supporting greater investment in UK recycling services and infrastructure.

‘Doldrums’

Also touching on the upcoming waste strategy was David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of Suez,  who explained that the figures reflect the fact that England remains in the recycling ‘doldrums’ , after more than a decade of “hard-won” behavioural change.

“The lack of progress is a reflection of the challenges facing the global recycling market; cuts to consumer communication and perhaps consumer apathy and the majority of domestic political activity being focussed on other areas in recent years.”

He added that the upcoming Resources and Waste Plan from Defra offers an “opportunity for the nation to make an environmental step change”, but is not going to be an immediate panacea to the current dwindling performance.

He commented: “We do, however, believe that Defra’s plan will provide a longer-term roadmap for the nation’s journey towards a circular economy and will deliver positive direction for businesses, consumers and the environment.”

Concern

FCC Environment, through its chief executive, Paul Taylor, said that the figures for the 2017/18 financial year showed a worrying trend on recycling, but did have some positives – including a reduction in waste to landfill.

Many in the industry have said the government’s upcoming strategy needs to include measures to help boost recycling rates

“It is encouraging to see the continued downward trend when it comes to waste to landfill, however the latest statistics also reveal a worrying trend when it comes to recycling,” he explained.

Mr Taylor added: “Given the long-standing emphasis on increasing recycling rates and the Government’s efforts to tackle the plastic waste problem, it is disappointing to see that recycling rates have fallen. “

And, touching on the upcoming strategy, he stated: “In our view this news reinforces the need for Government to take urgent action to help boost recycling rates and encourage waste prevention through reuse schemes.”

Clear message

Viridor’s managing director of recycling & integrated assets, Paul Brown, added that a concise message from the government and local authorities could help to boost rates.

“Viridor has invested in specialised recycling facilities and continues to work with packaging manufacturers and major consumer brands to increase recyclability but the public need a clear and concise message from Government and local authorities to collectively improve recycling performance and reach national targets,” he explained.

Mr Brown said: “A more standardised approach across local authority boundaries would encourage more infrastructure in the right places and help boost economic growth and we hope to see this reflected in Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy which is expected to be released shortly.”

Funding

Richard Kirkman called for greater funding for councils to harmonise collections

From a Veolia perspective, Richard Kirkman, chief technology and innovation officer at Veolia UK & Ireland, said that two things need to happen in order to improve recycling rates.

Mr Kirkman said: “Funding must be provided to local authorities in order to harmonise and broaden collections – this could be delivered through taxes on plastics proposed in the recent budget or Extended Producer Responsibility requirements.”

He added: “Secondly, we need to see a real push by the public to increase recycling. Over 40% of plastic bottles, which are highly recyclable, are still being incorrectly disposed of and therefore not reaching recycling facilities.

“Ahead of the highly anticipated Resources and Waste Strategy, this is our chance as an industry and country to review these gaps, increase resource efficiency and build on the existing recycling performance, moving the UK from bystander into an era of environmental leadership.”

Organic waste

Jeremy Jacobs, technical director of the Renewable Energy Association, was also among those calling for further government action.

Discussing the fall in organic waste collected, with overall tonnages falling by 100,000 tonnes in the calendar year, Mr Jacobs said: “This clearly demonstrates that without some form of government intervention, the current strategy of waiting for local authorities to collect food waste voluntarily is flawed,” he explained.

Mr Jacobs added: “This is no reflection on local authorities willingness to collect food waste, but more that they do not have the funding in place to make this happen. The move to weekly food waste collections has been in recent times driven more as a result of local authorities moving to two and three weekly collections of residual waste than a direct move to collect food waste.”

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