Recycling initiatives ‘undermining reclamation and reuse’

We all know that reuse trumps recycling in the hierarchy of sustainable waste management, but, according to a champion of building material reclamation, government campaigns to increase recycling rates are hitting the industry hard.

Thornton Kay of building reclamation company Salvo told edie that the focus on the ‘big-win’ of large-scale commercial recycling has left his industry in a difficult position.

“Domestic recycling is a hard nut to crack so it’s much easier for the agencies which have been set up to turn their attention to commercial waste.

“Construction and demolition waste is seen as easy pickings as it’s such a major waste stream.

“People who might have previously been reusing materials are now being encouraged to recycle them.

“We used to have the most efficient reclamation industry in the world while a lot of places that are often held up as a good example of sustainable practices like Denmark and Germany did not have one at all and would be looking to us as a supplier.

“Now that’s all changed. Ten years ago no reclaimed bricks were being crushed for recycling – they would all be reused.

“And if you look at wood, it’s all being sent to mulchers, chippers, MDF makers and waste to energy plants, it’s not being reused.”

While this move doesn’t spell the end of the reclamation industry, said Mr Kay, it was leading to materials being imported which wasted a great deal of their embodied energy.

“Dealers aren’t going to stop selling reclaimed materials, they are just going to look elsewhere for them,” he said.

“Ten years ago the only brick you could buy from a local reclamation yard was a brick from a local demolition.

“But now bricks are being shipped in from Argentina, which is a nonsense and a waste of energy.”

With no trade association or corporate clout – reclamation companies tend to be small, family run outfits – Mr Kay believes the pleas of his industry are falling on deaf ears.

“From where I’m sitting the Government looks totally disinterested in reuse,” he said.

“They may say that reuse beats recycling in the waste hierarchy, but we’ve seen absolutely no evidence that that’s what they’re trying to do.”

“They’re not sticking their money where their mouth is.”

“Government policy in this area appears to have been made on the hoof. Recycling is big business and reclamation isn’t – and we are losing out. We’ve been knocked badly by what’s been going on.”

Mr Kay has now written to Environment Minister David Miliband to air his views, and is calling for a Government rethink on reclamation.

Salvo is also organising a trade fair for construction and waste professionals interested in architectural salvage, which will take place in Hertfordshire at the end of this month.

Further details of the free event can be found on the company’s website.

Sam Bond

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