Industry expert takes on 'lazy' journalism and tackles inaccurate reports on recycling

A waste industry expert has managed to get several newspapers to correct their inaccurate reports on recycling after making complaints to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

Eunomia senior consultant Peter Jones has taken on the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express in his quest to halt what he calls "lazy journalism".

Speaking about the problem, Jones told "Waste and recycling affect everyone, but the issues are far more complex than most people outside the sector realise, which makes it difficult for journalists to get it right when it comes to stories about the industry. It's not good subject matter for 'lazy' journalism - and so I feel it's important that when the press gets it wrong, someone should take the time to get the story straight."

Jones' first complaint to the press watchdog centred on an article published in the Daily Mail on 6 April 2013, which said that "millions of tonnes of household recycling is 'dumped abroad'".

The complaint was resolved after the PCC negotiated the remedial measures with the newspaper following complaints from Jones on the basis of accuracy. The PCC asked for the online version of the article to be removed and that the newspaper run a correction pointing out that the figure related to household and commercial waste purchased by overseas reprocessors, of "which the proportion deemed unusable and ending up in landfill is unknown".

Jones told that the "economics were simple". He said: "No one would buy recyclate just in order to landfill it, so we can be confident that the great majority is recycled".

On his blog called Isonomia, Jones also explained that he also complained about the Mail's coverage of former Resource Minister Lord de Mauley's comments regarding the requirement under the Waste Framework Directive for various recycling streams to be collected separately.

The Mail said that this meant householders would need at least five bins, one for residual and one for each recycling stream, and that weekly residual waste collections had to stop. Jones said the Telegraph and the Express also picked up on the same story.

The PCC said that the complaint was resolved and the Telegraph and the Daily Mail have made a series of amendments to their articles and reported that the Directive allows for the continued collection of "commingled recyclable waste as long as councils introduce measures that ensure that thereafter the waste is not mixed with other waste or other materials with different properties. It remains to be seen which councils will meet their obligations under the Directive by the issue of additional recycling boxes".

Jones said that the Telegraph amended its article "quite quickly". He told "Broadsheets aren't immune from getting it wrong, but they do tend to be less extreme in their claims."

Jones also asserted that it was a "lengthy process" getting these stories corrected. He said he spent many evenings and weekends analysing and writing complaints about the articles.

He said that with information so poor from newspapers such as the Mail "it is hardly surprising if public perceptions are skewed".

He explained: "The most important result my complaints could have is to change the way recycling issues are handled in the press. Perhaps I'm being over-optimistic, but I detect some a slight shift in the Mail's stance."

Liz Gyekye
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Waste & resource management
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