A few still doubtful despite multi-million recycling launch

As the Government prepares to launch its multi-million Recycle Now campaign next Monday, the environmental benefits provided by recycling waste materials are still being questioned by some.

The Government has spent millions on the campaign, which has been organised by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and marks the first time in British history that recycling has been the subject of multi-media advertising.

Following the implementation of the Landfill Directive, a new Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme (LATS), Local Waste Authorities (LWAs) now have limited landfill credits, which they can use, save or trade, in a bid to encourage more environmentally friendly forms of waste disposal.

Environment Minister Elliot Morley told edie that, by raising public awareness, this campaign would help to improve waste management in the UK from the inside out.

“Once people start to get into the habit of recycling it becomes a matter of routine,” he said. “We have had access to cheaper landfill than the rest of Europe for some time now, which is why the British public have been particularly poor with their recycling effort, but this is all going to change now.”

Government figures show that, at 14.5%, more people in the UK are currently recycling and composting than ever before. Targets for this year are set at 17%, and by the end of next year, a quarter of us are expected to be recycling and composting our household waste.

Mr Morley said that he believed that majority of the British public was keen to recycle more, and the Government’s job was now to make it as easy and accessible as possible:

“I am very confident that England will meet the targets set for next year – if not exceed them. Less reliance on landfill sites, which produce large amounts of greenhouse gases, will help to produce more resources and environmental benefits for future generations.”

However, the actual environmental benefits of recycling are marginal, according to Professor Paul Ekins, head of the Environment Group at the Policy Studies Institute (PSI). He says that a series of industrial processes are triggered off by recycling, which cost more than manufacturing items from scratch and use up far more energy than, for instance, incineration does.

“There is no clear reason why we should recycle,” Professor Ekins said. “People think it is always environmentally beneficial, but it really depends on analysing complex and uncertain impacts.”

Chief executive of the Environmental Services Association (ESA) agreed that recycling was not always the best waste disposal option: “We need a flexible approach. We should recycle what is right to recycle, compost where appropriate and extract energy through incineration if that is the answer.”

He added that as the EU considered energy extracted from the biodegradable fraction of waste to be “renewable” that there was no reason for the UK not to, and that the Government’s renewables targets could only be achieved with the inclusion of all energy from waste technologies.

Mr Morley told edie that it was ultimately up to the LWAs as to how they disposed of excess waste. He felt that the environmental benefits of incineration were inferior to those provided by recycling, but it was still a viable option.

“Local authorities have a wide range of waste disposal options available to them,” he said. “There is a waste hierarchy in terms of prescriptive measures. Minimisation, recycling and reuse are at the top. Extracting energy from waste by incineration is further down the list, but it is certainly preferable to landfill.”

By Jane Kettle

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