Anyone bored by the waste collection debate?


So here we go again. The co-mingled versus source-segregated debate. It has been swilling around for so long in the waste industry cellar, it must be a well matured wine by now. I just wish someone would hurry up and drink it.
The latest instalment of this soap opera is a WYG report published last week which came out with "irrefutable evidence" that wheelie bin co-mingled collections are best for boosting recycling rates and cost savings for local authorities.

WYG claims the research was independent, but err, who commissioned it? None other than Biffa, the company who having recently acquired Greenstar UK, has suddenly found itself with a lot of MRFs. And what do MRFs need? Tonnages.

Not surprisingly this point has been leapt upon by the well oiled PR machine that is the Campaign for Real Recycling (CRR). Hotly disputing the findings of the report, it accused WYG of "pulling the wool over the eyes" of local authorities about the value of quality recycling.

It doesn't take a genius to work out that both parties have vested interests here. Co-mingled collections tend to generate more volume, and MRF operators make most of their money through the gate fees they charge for this material.

Meanwhile the CRR represents reprocessors who need quality recyclate to maximise their profits. Source-segregated collections usually result in higher quality, less contamination and as such can often be sent straight to the reprocessor, bypassing the MRF.

Interestingly, what both sides have done to try and back up their arguments is refer to the work of WRAP – depending on what WRAP's latest stance is. But I would question using even their research which is more independent than most.

See, WRAP used to sit on the fence on this particular debate but in 2009 it decided to take the plunge and came down on the side of kerbside-sort. Such a move quickly divided the industry and since then, WRAP has backtracked somewhat – it now sides a bit more with co-mingled.

What this tells me is that you can't rate one approach above the other. There is no holy grail, no magic formula that can be applied as standard practice. It depends on so many variables – people live differently, consume differently, and dispose of their waste differently.

By all means look at the pros and cons of different collection strategies, but don't try to impose one over another. Leave it up to those who know best – the local authority waste officers on the ground.

Quite honestly, having spent six years covering this debate, I'm growing bored by it. Maybe it's time all those concerned threw the towel in and looked to work together for the greater good. Or is that just too sensible?
Follow me on twitter @ecoscribbler

maxine perella

Topics: edie
Tags: gate fees | kerbside sort | WRAP
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