UK is losing £1.7bn each year due to disjointed recycling system, study finds

The UK is losing £1.7bn worth of recyclable and reusable products each year because its recycling system is disjointed, according to a new report.

The Circular Economy Task Force calls for a better recycling system

The Circular Economy Task Force calls for a better recycling system

Outdated policy means that a plastic bottle discarded at home is treated differently across the UK's 376 waste collection authorities, according to the report published by a business-led group convened by Green Alliance - the Circular Economy Task Force.

If the same plastic bottle is discarded at work, it goes through another, separate system. In contrast, in Denmark, the same bottle is treated the same way no matter where it is discarded. This makes for a simpler, better recycling system, the report's authors claim.

Under the current system less than half of all waste is recycled and rises in recycling rates have stalled, warns the Circular Economy Task Force. A better system could generate £2bn in private investment in waste and recycling plants, including anaerobic digestion facilities and plastic recycling plants, the report states.

Britain collects less than a third of plastic packaging for recycling, most of which is exported for processing. Only a fifth of electronics products are reused although almost a quarter could be, according to the Task Force.

The result is a vicious circle in which companies see little incentive to invest in new recycling plants because not enough high-quality product is collected to make it worth their while, and councils do not ensure quality material is collected because there are not enough plants to take it.

Manufacturers who could use locally recycled materials cannot find them, the report states.

While some products, such as food waste, can be handled at local authority level, others such as high-quality plastics recycling or waste electronics need to be dealt with on a larger scale, the report states.

Author of the report Dustin Benton told that the UK currently had a "silly format" of different recycling systems and that collection systems should deliver the "same outcomes" and create high-quality products.

He explained: "Local authorities spend more on waste management than housing or planning. Valuable raw materials are lost while businesses are frustrated by a lack of usable recycled materials. The system both stymies demand for recycled materials and prevents businesses investing.

"The problem is structural. The government could easily turn this around by reforming the system to help businesses get the UK moving toward a circular economy."

Task Force member and Boots UK sustainable development manager for products Andrew Jenkins added: "Greater consistency of collection and recycling systems would help ensure the reliability of material supply thereby facilitating the design and specification of more products incorporating recycled materials."

The report calls on the Government to set up a £250m challenge fund, the same amount the Department for Communities and Local Government found for supporting "wasteful" weekly bin collections last year - to make the system more efficient.

It also suggested that the Government could set common collection standards for all councils.

Liz Gyekye
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