‘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
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 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
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
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
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
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.
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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