Recycling and waste minimisation remain in the political spotlight in the wake of a hard-hitting report on Sustainable Waste Management from the Commons Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and the Regions published in March.

The most damning is the first stricture: ‘The majority of those involved with waste in this country appear to be guilty of thinking without imagination and planning without ambition, of finding problems instead of solutions and aiming for short-term goals without a vision of the system of resource use and waste management which we should be striving for.’

The committee is also disappointed with the data available on waste arisings which is seen as ‘incomplete, unreliable and often published too late to be of use.’ The report calls on the Government to fund the Environment Agency to enable it to carry out continuous monitoring of waste.

The MPs also complain that the Government ‘does not appear to be taking waste minimisation seriously’ and says it must set a target for reducing the rate of growth of waste and consider with some urgency precisely how it can drive waste growth down and ultimately reverse it.

On re-use and recycling the Select Committee says: ‘The kerbside collection of source-separated waste is a necessity if we are to transform waste management. It must be ensured that the Best Value regime works to increase the proportion of households covered by kerbside collections.’

The MPs says that a prerequisite of an authority being awarded beacon council status should be that at least 50% of its households be covered by kerbside collections.

Also, the role of civic amenity sites in increasing recycling rates must not be neglected.

The committee also recommends that new targets be set of 50% for recycling and composting by 2010 and 60% by 2015: these would ensure that vigorous efforts to recycle are maintained.

The MPs also believe that source separation remains the key to a better waste management system: an expansion of composting, like recycling, will be of greatest merit if it makes use of materials which are separated out by householders, the report says.

The Select Committee takes a sceptical view of energy from waste using incineration, stating that the nature of incineration is such that it can ‘crowd out’ recycling; in the MPs’ view, if a significant number of large incinerators, operating on long contracts, are allowed to be built, the long-term prospects for recycling will be diminished. ‘The real challenge,’ the report says, ‘then, is to keep the contribution of incineration to a reasonable level.’ The committee also says that it does not accept that energy from waste is a renewable form of energy.

Underlining its view the committee also calls for the introduction of a tax on incineration. The MPs also argue that the Landfill Tax at its present level is too small an incentive to change established behaviour significantly and recommends that it should be increased to at least £25 per tonne over the next five years with all funds from the increased tax rate going into the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme. The committee also proposes a new system consisting of a fund, which takes a given percentage of Landfill Tax revenues (and the proposed incineration tax) with the funds being out directly towards minimising, re-using and recycling waste.

Succesful recycling

Despite the criticisms from the Select Committee of the UK’s overall under-performance in waste management, and in recycling in particular, a report from Friends of the Earth and The Community Recycling Network, Recycling in action offers some good news in the form of leading case studies across England and Wales. The report highlights a selection of innovative recycling and composting schemes, operating in very different environments, from urban areas to isolated rural communities and collecting a variety of different materials. FoE believes that we should be aiming well beyond the Government targets, and that we can meet our European requirements for landfill diversion through recycling and composting alone, without the need for new incineration or landfill capacity. FoE advocates a target of 50% recycling and composting by 2010, and higher targets beyond this, indicating there is not a ceiling on recycling possibilities.

Recycling sector reports

Figures from the paper industry for 1999 confirm a continuing trend for the increased use of recovered paper year on year. UK-wide some 4.8 million tonnes were recovered, representing 72% utilisation rate of paper produced, but only 40% recovery of the total paper consumption of 12.7 million tonnes.

One limiting factor on substantial further utilisation of recovered paper is that there is insufficient reprocessing capacity in the country. Growth could also be generated through the development of different new markets for recovered paper.

Glass statistics

Returns made to British Glass for the amount of glass packaging recovered show a substantial increase in the level of UK glass recycling from 498,673 tonnes in 1999 to 566,563 tonnes in 2000. In the past data collected by the DETR suggests that the final figure could be even higher.

The 14% increase in recycled tonnage was achieved in large part through further significant support from the glass packaging industry. The industry’s efforts were also helped by some recovery in the funds raised by the sale of Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs).

’The glass industry has worked hard to support further growth in glass recycling,’ said John Cobring, Chairman of the British Glass Public Affairs Committee. ‘The increase in PRN revenue to £3.1 million has undoubtedly resulted from the fact that the overall targets for recovery and recycling were raised again for last year’.

PRN income in 2000 increased to £3.1 million from £2.6 million in 1999. Some 73% of funds raised were spent on supporting the glass collection systems by maintaining price and investing in bottle banks. A further 15% of the revenue was used to improve cullet-handling capabilities within the manufacturers’ plants. In addition some £120,000 was spent in setting up a new website and developing a CD-ROM for a new children’s education programme, aimed at promoting glass recycling.

Mr Cobring added: ‘Glass recycling makes a real contribution to the environment and is an excellent example of how the industry and the public can work together to achieve common goals.’ He added: ‘Glass packaging can be recycled again and again without loss in quality. New glass containers made with high levels of recycled glass are as pure as ones made solely from virgin raw materials.

‘Effectively consumers use the same glass over and over again with increasing environmental benefits, in terms of less waste going to landfill, and reduced energy consumption.’

Steel advances

The picture is also looking good on the steel packaging recycling front: between 1998 and 1999 the rate in the UK rose by 20% (from 25% up to 30%) and this looks set to increase by a further 12% for the year 2000, based on recent forecasts.

According to Corus Steel Packaging Recycling (CSPR) this achievement, which puts steel second only to paper in the league table of UK recycling rates for packaging materials, is mainly due to the co-operation between local authorities, community collection schemes and sector organisations.

Also in the metals recycling market, Alupro, the Aluminium Packaging Recycling organisation, is launching a rolling programme this spring to give fresh impetus to aluminium can and foil recycling in the regions.

‘We shall be working with local authorities to help ensure that the collection facilities for aluminium cans and foil are the best mix for each area and that material handling and sale are operating smoothly,’ says Operations Director, Alex Griffin.

‘Working with Alcan Aluminium can Recycling, we are in the final stages of developing a computer-based model which will illustrate the valuable contribution that aluminium packaging can make to the viability of mixed packaging collection schemes and MRF operation. The new model will be launched this summer.’

Sustainable aggregates

A major contribution to the reduction of waste going to landfill can be made by the construction aggregates sector.

The Quarry Products Association reports that in 1989 primary aggregates accounted for 300 million tonnes with recycled and secondary aggregates accounting for 32mt, while in 2000 the respective figures were 205 million tonnes and 48mt, presenting a percentage change of Ð32% and +50%, respectively from 1989-2000.

Recycled and secondary includes demolition wastes, road planings, industrial and extactivce by-products, such as iron and steel slag and china clay waste. In addition to the estimated 48 million tonnes of recycled/secondary materials used in aggregates markets, some 10/20 million tonnes of demolition waste are used for engineering/cover purposes associated with landfill.

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