'Green' taxes set to shape future

Recycling is facing mixed prospects according to the latest figures and commentary from the various materials sectors which are featured in LAWE¹s annual review of recycling. Market conditions remain the underlying critical factor in most recycling areas, with the glut of green glass creating major headaches for local authorities, while new initiatives help to maintain a perhaps more optimistic mood in areas such as plastics and aluminium.

Chancellor Gordon Brown emerged as a big player on the recycling scene with his recent Budget announcement of a new levy aimed at tackling the environmental costs of quarrying and encouraging the use of recycled materials.

Equally significant will be the final version of the Waste Strategy for England and Wales, which, as LAWE went to press, was expected to be published early this month (April).

Solutions to dealing with the problems of dealing with, and recycling waste, have international ramifications, not least in Europe. Both national and EU administrations, plus non-governmental organisations and environmental groups, are contributing to the debate on how to handle waste and encourage recycling. Comparisons of how 18 European cities tackle the prevention and recycling of urban waste, for example, are described in a new inventory published by Media-Com, with the support of the European Commission. This collection of examples of good practice in waste management is available in printed form or on the www.energie-cities.org website.

In the UK recent initiatives include the Manifesto for Market Development, "a positive action agenda to boost recycling", promoted by Waste Watch, which had notched up 400 backers, from local government and industry, to recycling bodies and individuals, by March this year. The manifesto is a seven-point plan to promote recycling by supporting action to create new markets and expand existing markets for materials. It was supported at its launch last September by the Community Recycling Network, the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) and Biffa Waste Services Ltd. Action points included the call for retailers to reduce the level of drinks imports packaged in green glass, backing for a major, national 'Buy Recycled' promotion to build on the LARAC Buy Recycled campaign, and support for the development of a Green Tax Commission.

In another recent move Waste Watch, Friends of the Earth and UK Waste, last month published a report, Beyond the Bin ­ the Economics of Waste Management Options. This is intended to contribute to the debate surrounding the relative benefits of recycling, incineration and landfill and the national waste strategy.

Written by Ecotec Research and Consulting Ltd, the study suggests that the key to increasing recycling is through increasing participation in recycling schemes, through education, incentives, or formal or informal sanctions.

Construction & quarrying
Turning to specific recycling sectors, the aggregates levy has pushed the role of the quarrying industry, and its client construction, to the top of the agenda.

The building and civil engineering industries, and their associated demolition sector, have been giving priority to the environmental impact of their activities and the need to develop a sustainable approach. CIRIA, the industry's information and research organisation, and the Construction Industry Environmental Forum, play leading roles in promoting sustainable solutions for construction, such as waste minimisation, whilst the DETR last month published Good Practice Guidance on Controlling the Environmental Effects of Recycled and Secondary Aggregates Production. The Department says the guidance is needed given that around 70 million tonnes of demolition and construction waste, and almost 100 million tonnes of mining and quarrying waste are generated each year. According to the DETR, "Although there is considerable potential for using these waste as aggregates, large quantities either remain on site or are landfilled."

The Government's declared policy is to minimise the loss of land and the environmental impacts associated with primary extraction and waste disposal by increasing the amount of recycled and secondary materials used in construction. "The aim," says the new guidance, "is to increase their use from about 30 million tonnes in 1989 to about 55 million tonnes per year by 2006."

The DETR has just carried out the largest ever construction and demolition waste survey, which should improve a situation, where, according to the Quarry Products Association (QPA), "there is a lack of definitive data on the availability and supply or recycled/secondary materials."

The QPA says: "There is frequently confusion about the likely and potential use of recycled and secondary materials, and particularly demolition and construction wastes, because there is no consistently reliable set of data and because of inconsistencies and confusion in terminology.

"In the context of making the most efficient use of primary aggregates, we would regard the use of any recycled or secondary materials in circumstances which replace the use of primary aggregates as positive examples of 'recycling'."

The association maintains that, on the basis of existing evidence, it appears likely that the total contribution of recycled and secondary materials to domestic aggregates use is significant, estimated at 17%. The QPA also says that it is likely that our total rate is of a similar order to best European practice.

The association considers that mechanisms already in place will continue to optimise the use of recycled and secondary resources and argues that there is no evidence to suggest that an aggregates tax would significantly alter that process.

Concern over glass
Also under pressure, principally from a glut in green bottles, is the glass recycling sector. Local authorities can face a zero return on their recycled green glass, and even a negative effect when the cost of transport to often distant glass recycling plants is taken into account.

Figures for 1998 show that 22% of glass packaging was recycled, (some 476,000 tonnes) with the number of bottle bank sites totalling 22,821. The 27% of glass recycled in the UK, including flat, compares unfavourably against the over 50% of the European average.

Chris Davey, who chairs LARAC, has commented on the unfavourable market conditions now prevailing on the glass sector. He says that there is an over supply of green glass due to imports which cannot be re-used in the UK. The low price of PRNs has also not helped the situation. This has meant that, unless prices paid for cullet have been fixed under contract, many LAs faced spending considerable sums on diverting glass from the waste stream into recycling.

Mr Davey points out that glass recycling campaigns can only work if there is a market for the material at a price which is acceptable. He argues that new markets need to be developed and the costs of recycling need to be shared equitably between all partners with legal responsibilities.

The glass recycling sector has been seeking alternatives notably through potential use of crushed glass as a construction aggregate and as an abrasive in industry.

Another positive move has been the investment by Rockware Glass in a brand new £4.5 million cullet treatment processing plant now in use at the company's factory at Knottingley. This allows the company to produce substantially more post-consumer glass in its four UK glass container plants.

Paper recycling rolls on
Latest figures from the Pulp and Paper Information Centre (PPIC), show that in 1998 waste paper merchants delivered 4.7 million tonnes of waste (now often termed 'recovered') paper to UK mills and exported another 402,291 tonnes.

Although the industry's use of recovered paper has risen steadily for the last 14 years, the PPIC states that the UK has "a fairly low paper recovery rate (the amount of paper and board recovered relative the amount consumes which includes 7.4 million tonnes of imported paper), recovering only 40% compared to 48.9% for the EU."

The paper industry points out that UK mills tend to have some of the highest waste paper utilisation rates in the world - ie the amount of recovered paper used in relation to the amount produced.

The Paper Federation of Great Britain is spearheading a national campaign to raise both public and industries' awareness of the need to recycle. The aim is to increase the recovery of waste paper by 50% by the end of the decade.

One of the success stories in paper recycling is the performance of UK Paper's Recycled Fibre (RCF) Plant, in Sittingbourne, Kent. The plant, which was opened in 1996 at a cost of £43 million, currently consumes 180,000 tonnes of high grade waste paper a year, representing some 16% of the office paper disposed annually within the UK. Greater London provides the bulk of the feedstock with the resultant 120,000 tonnes of recycled fibre being used in all UK Paper products. The company's 100% recycled office paper, EVOLVE, relies entirely on a constant and steady supply of this material. Judith Davis, Marketing Manager said: "UK Paper recognises that the recycling process should be based on best environmental practice. As a result we have invested heavily in cleaner production processes."

A key part of the recycling process is de-inking, which, in the case of the RCF plant, is totally chlorine-free, using hydrogen peroxide and sodium hydrosulphide rather than elemental chlorine to bleach the paper.

Progress on can recycling
In contrast to the woes of the glass recyclers there is better news from the metal container front. Alupro, the Aluminium Packaging Recycling Organisation Ltd, reports that the latest figures, covering 1998, showed a recycling rate of 36% of a total aluminium can consumption of 69,000 tonnes. Some 7% of a total of 23,000 tonnes of foil was recycled with energy from waste accounting for a further 7% of thin foil.

The indications are that the recovery rate continued to improve last year. Alupro is to announce new initiatives to encourage recycling activity, and to gain widespread public support for local benefit school and charity collectors, at the Alupro National Convention in Birmingham next month (May). There will be a summer promotion at Cash for Can centres which will integrate foil collection into aluminium can collections and target new collectors. There will also be a new emphasis on social employment community projects, in partnership with local authorities.

Since its launch in January 1998 when the UK¹s packaging recycling regulations came into force, Corus Steel Packaging Recycling (formerly the British Steel Packaging Recycling Unit) has been the driving force behind the development of a number of initiatives designed to increase the collection and recycling of steel packaging.

Commercial and industrial steel packaging (eg large drums, steel strapping and banding) has a long established collection infrastructure and is recycled at over 80%. It is the recovery of steel packaging from the domestic waste stream (mainly food and drink cans) which needs to increase if the UK is to achieve the 52% recovery target set for 2001, says Corus.

All six Corus steelmaking plants are accredited reprocessors (recycling) sites in relation to the packaging regulations.

Steel packaging recycling rates
Steel packaging represents an estimated 7.5% (733,000 tonnes) of all packaging consumed in the UK. Approximately 182,500 tonnes of steel packaging was recycled during 1998 - representing a UK recycling rate for steel of 25%.

During the first two years of operation under the Producer Responsibility legislation, the price of steel Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs) has fallen by 64%. Despite this marked decline in PRN income, Corus Steel Packaging Recycling has run a comprehensive recycling development and communications programme, investing in initiatives which enhance and develop the collection infrastructure for steel packaging from households across the UK.

For example, around 2,000 additional tonnes of steel packaging have been magnetically extracted from energy from waste plants for recycling following investment in new systems to upgrade steel packaging scrap.

More for 15 local authorities across the UK have benefited from the provision of recycling equipment including can banks, balers, collection hardware and magnets; while incorporation of steel packaging into new as well as existing door-to-door recycling schemes has seen kerbside collection of steel cans increase from 7,455 tonnes in 1997/98 to 10,792 tonnes in 1998/99.

CanRoute launched
In June 1999, Corus Steel Packaging Recycling launched CanRoute for steel cans specifically to address the challenge of household collection. It is a simple, sustainable, cost effective way of increasing steel can recovery through a defined routing system.

CanRoute provides an essential link between recovery in the community and recycling in the steel plant, creating an infrastructure which facilitates the economic collection of smaller quantities of steel cans from a large number of locations - particularly relevant to new community collection schemes. Corus invited its major ferrous scrap suppliers to act as agents for CanRoute.

The system is designed to give collectors:

  • a delivery point as close as possible to their collection/sorting facilities
  • a guaranteed price
  • additional, convenient delivery points for steel can collections from many locations servicing the whole of the UK
  • a secure market for recovered cans at Corus steel plants
  • flexibility and choice.
As well as transportation savings and competitive market prices for collected cans paid promptly within seven days, CanRoute provides collectors with a secure market for their cans.

During its first eight months of operation (June 1999 to February 2000), CanRoute routed more than 4,232 tonnes (some 100 million cans) from the 40 organisations signed up to the system ­ including local authorities, community organisations and small, independent collectors ­ to the steel plant for recycling.

Minister pinpoints plastics potential
Environment Minister Michael Meacher turned the spotlight on plastics recycling at the recent Recycling Plastics: Are You Missing Out? conference, stating: "Plastics recycling and recyclate is good for the environment and good for business. Recycled material is a largely untapped resource. It is an additional resource stream waiting to be exploited by industry and an opportunity which many businesses are currently missing out on."

Nearly three million tonnes of plastic waste is generated every year in the UK but the current recycling rate is only about 5%.

However, PIFA (Packaging and Industrial Films Association) Chairman, Keith Stenning, at the same event, warned that lack of investment in recovery and recycling facilities could lead to the UK falling short of future plastics recycling targets, despite being able to meet current levels. He added that, despite successfully achieving goals set out in the Producer Responsibility Regulations for Packaging Waste, any reduction in future PRN funding could jeopardise existing recycling efforts. Mr Stenning, who is Group Resources Director of British Polythene Industries plc, stated: "PRN funding has now reduced to a level which will only support the simplest of recycling processes."

Specific sectors of plastics recycling continue to perform well. RECOUP, for example, in its 1999 survey of all local authorities revealed that 194 LAs now operate a plastic bottle collection scheme (41% of local authorities). The number of collection banks for plastic bottles has risen 12% in the last year and the number of plastic bottles collected in 1999 increased to 11,300 tonnes (over 225 million bottles). Growth is predicted to approximately 13,100 tonnes for 2000, 15,000 tonnes for 2001 and 16,500 for 2002.

The increasing use of plastics in car manufacturing also poses a big challenge for the plastics recyclers. According to APME (Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe), currently eight per cent of 67,000 tonnes of total automotive post-user plastics waste is mechanically recycled.

The disposal of scrapped vehicles continues to present a major problem, together with the associated question of waste tyres, which is being tackled by a Used Tyre Working Group. Incineration of used tyres via waste-to-energy plants or cement furnaces offers a partial solution as does the limited use of tyres in engineered works in landfill cell construction, but new initiatives need to be developed to meet the general ban of disposing of tyres to landfill under the new Directive.

Electronics study
In other specialist areas, ICER, the cross-industry association for electronic equipment recycling, estimates that as much as half of the electronic and electrical equipment in the UK's waste stream could be going to recyclers. This is based on a new study published by ICER.

The long established textile recycling sector is facing tough trading conditions and potential problems in exporting used material if there is a strict application of EU legislation on 'country of origin,' which could see customs tariffs of between 60 and 120% imposed.

The Textile Recycling Association has been working on the UK industry's behalf to tackle areas of contention such as export to non-OECD countries and preferential export tariffs.

With timber packaging now an obligated sector under packaging regulations, there is likely to be a continuing boost to wood waste recycling and an incentive for manufacturers of materials such as chipboard to invest in plant and machinery.

In the immediate future, the publication of the Governmen's new Waste Strategy will play a key role in influencing how recycling develops overall and within major sectors.


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