The UK has made great strides in improving recycling rates and circulating secondary raw materials back into the economy. The UK's recycling rate for municipal waste was 36.7% in 2009/2010, with commercial/industrial recycling estimated to be in the region of 40%.
Pushing recycling rates up further requires a collaborative effort from Government, the public and the industry. The industry has invested in a range of technologies to separate materials of value, but the UK still needs significant investment in new plant and equipment to meet landfill diversion targets.
Collection systems: While source segregated or commingled collections are each often promoted as having exclusive attributes in terms of quality of outputs and cost advantage, both are viable options in providing cost effective waste handling systems. Selection depends on the particular circumstances under which waste collection is undertaken, with maximising recycling yields, protecting the environment, health and safety, and providing value for local authorities the considerations on which a choice must be made. ESA is committed to driving forward quality management for commingled operations and material streams.
Boosting markets for recycled materials: While the market for recycled materials is international, strong domestic markets allow us to harness the value of materials at home and drive forward economic growth. Government can influence the development of domestic reprocessing infrastructure by stimulating domestic markets for recycled materials in both the public and private sector.
Maintaining standards: Recycling activities must be conducted to exacting health, safety and environmental standards. Operating to these standards entails a cost. Operators falling short of these standards undermine the rest of the industry, creating an uneven playing field on which more conscientious operators cannot compete.
Consumer behaviour: Policies designed to influence consumer recycling behaviour must be intensified if the successes of the past 10 years are to be sustained.
ESA Policy Recommendations
- Government must make the policing of environmental crime a priority and ensure that, in the face of budgetary pressure, there are sufficient resources and intent to conduct these activities effectively. Resources can be freed-up by leveraging industry self-regulation, and by recognising in regulation, quality assurance schemes like that run by Recycling Registration Service Limited.
- Domestic end-markets for recycled materials should be encouraged through green procurement and product standards.
- End of Waste Protocols should be accelerated in order for the market to have confidence in the characteristics of secondary materials.
- Any additional landfill bans must be supported by a strong evidence base and if applied, must be signalled well in advance and have sufficient lead-in time to allow for the provision of alternative treatment routes for banned materials.
- Government should work with Local Authorities to promote public awareness and to implement positive reinforcement policies in order to maximise recycling yields and minimise non-target materials in recycling streams.