Recycling still rules, research shows

Recycling is still the greenest waste management option a review of the environmental impacts of different forms of rubbish disposal has found.

The Waste and Resources Action Programme, the government’s waste and packaging agency, makes the conclusion in an update published this month to its 2006 report, Environmental Benefits or Recycling.

It says: “This report reinforces the key conclusion of the first report that recycling of paper/cardboard, plastics and biopolymers for most indicators assessed gives more environmental benefits than other waste management options.

“For wood and textiles, more studies are needed to be able to make firmer conclusions regarding the environmental benefits of recycling for these materials.”

The latest study published last Tuesday (March 16) reviewed some 200 reports on the environmental impact of different forms of waste management of materials, including recycling, landfilling and incineration.

It echoed the conclusion of the 2006 report that most studies show recycling offers more environmental positives than negatives as against other means of disposal.

Landfill was found to be the worst option, for paper and cardboard, while recycling is better than incineration overall.

For plastics, mechanical recycling is the best waste management option as incineration has a poor climate impact.

Landfill has the worst environmental impact. As the UK moves to a low carbon energy economy, recycling will become “increasingly favoured”, the report says.

Anaerobic digestion – breakdown of biodegradable material by microorganisms – shades composting as the best option for disposal of food and garden waste although composting benefits through its use as a substitute for peat and fertiliser.

Incineration is favoured for wood for the energy it creates as an end product though recycling is preferred for its lesser impact on climate.

Landfill should be avoided due to resulting methane emissions, the report says.

And, for textiles, the report recommends recycling as having “substantial” environmental benefits.

For the full report, Environmental Benefits of Recycling – 2010 Update, click here.

David Gibbs

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