Biffa backs environmentalists’ call for compulsory recycling targets

One of the UK's largest waste management companies has criticised the Government's draft National Waste Strategy for over-reliance on incineration and accuses policy-makers of stifling innovation in environmental technology.

Biffa, the UK’s fourth largest waste management firm has published its views on A Way with Waste, the Government’s proposed plan to meet EU Landfill Directive regulations (see related story).

“We’re not against incineration on the grounds of pollution,” Peter Jones, Biffa’s director of Business Development, told edie. “But we’re deeply suspicious of plans for 300,000 to 500,000 tonne throughput incinerators because we believe they will drive away innovation that could be taking place further up the supply chain.

A Question of Balance, Biffa’s report, focuses on four main criticisms of the Government’s proposed waste strategy:

  • over reliance on large incinerators which could threaten the re-use and recycling markets
  • inadequate measures for supply chain reform, producer responsibility and product redesign
  • failure to promote changes to consumer behaviour
  • failure to make real progress on a national waste database

Biffa would like to see a growth in smaller-scale incinerators – of 20,000 to 40,000 tonne throughput – that would be part of integrated, local waste management plans. The company would also like to see compulsory targets for recycling. “In common with organisations such as Friends of the Earth, we believe mandatory recycling targets for businesses and households would be a more environmentally sustainable option,” states A Question of Balance.

“Our view is that a proliferation of energy-from-waste plants will do nothing to accelerate the true drivers for increasing a product’s sustainability throughout its life, namely eco-friendly design by manufacturers, less use of toxic substances and higher rates of material recovery and re-use,” states Biffa’s report.

Jones also believes there are sound business reasons for UK companies and local authorities to be wary of plans for large incinerators. “If you have a small number of very large plants then you’re going to be moving more waste longer distances,” says Jones. “And we know that the fuel tax escalator will continue to rise.”

“A number of the things we’re suggesting are things we’re actually doing on the Isle of Wight,” says Jones. In addition to participating in a fully-integrated waste management system on the Isle of Wight, Biffa is also funding research into the island’s resource consumption and waste production cycle. The Isle of Wight research is being funded by Biffa through the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme (see related story), as is Biffa-funded research into lifecycle assessment for the UK textile, furniture and timber industries.

Considering Biffa’s future investment options, Jones hopes the UK Government will see the benefit of an integrated waste management strategy that encourages growth in technological innovations for the materials recovery and recycling sectors. Biffa does not operate any of the UK’s existing incinerators.

“We want to see what I call a biodiversity of technology,” says Jones. “Single species technology brings us closer to extinction.”

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