‘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


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


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


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


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


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


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


  • 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


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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