Survey tracks trends in recycling

The latest in LAWE's series of Tracking Trends supplements examines the key issues of waste minimisation and recycling raised by the publication of the Government's Waste Strategy for England and Wales. The move to meet tough waste reduction and recycling targets set by Environment Minister Michael Meacher against a background of EU Directives was given a boost by funds allocated in the recent Comprehensive Spending Review. This special section includes an extensive Preview of the forthcoming Recycling Exhibition at the NEC, beginning on page 18.

The Government’s Waste Strategy for England and Wales sees waste reduction and re-use as the key to sustainable waste management.

The policy blueprint states unequivocally: “Reducing waste must be the prime objective”.

Defining what is meant by “waste reduction”, the document says: “The focus of this strategy is solid waste, and therefore the efficient use of materials. It is concerned with the quantity of waste produced and how hazardous it is. In this strategy, ‘waste reduction’ therefore means reducing the quantity or hazardousness of solid and sludge wastes.”

In tackling the need to keep pace with the growth in municipal waste, let alone begin to reduce its volume, the strategy acknowledges that “hundreds of new waste facilities” would need to be built.

“Such facilities, of whatever type (composting, recycling, energy from waste), are rarely welcomed by the public, but some will be necessary,” the strategy accepts. “How many will depend upon our success in tackling the current growth in waste.”

The latest results from the second and third years of a joint survey* of municipal waste management by the DETR and the National Assembly for Wales indicate the extent of the task facing waste reducers and recyclers.

Increased volume

There were 27.2 million tonnes of municipal waste in 1997/98, up from 26 million tonnes in 1996/97, and 25.2 million tonnes in 1995/96. Over 90% of municipal waste comes from household sources (24.6 million tonnes in 1997/98).

In addition to the regular refuse collection, this includes civic amenity site waste, waste collected for recycling and composting and waste from special collections. This represents around 1.1 tonnes of waste per household per year.

In both years, 85% of municipal waste went to landfill. The main change in treatment and disposal in the year since 1996/97 is that the proportion of waste being incinerated without energy recovery has dropped from 2% to almost nothing, reflecting the closure of incinerators after the introduction of more stringent emissions standards.

This share has been taken up mainly by recycling and landfill, both of which increased slightly between 1996/97 and 1997/98.

Recycling and recovery

In 1997/98, 14% of municipal waste had value recovered from it, through recycling, composting or energy from waste schemes. This is up on the 13% reported in 1996/97.

Around two million tonnes of household waste was collected for recycling or centralised composting in 1997/98. Of this waste collected, paper and card accounted for nearly 40%, whilst glass and composting accounted for another 20% each.

The amount of material sent to centralised composting facilities increased substantially, from 280,000 tonnes in 196/97 to 390,000 tonnes in 1997/98.

Looking at recycling facilities 1997/98 saw the number of “bring” sites for recycling fall slightly to a level of about eight sites per 10,000 households.

However, the proportion of households served by “kerbside” recycling schemes increased substantially, from 17% of households in 1995/96 to 38% in 1997/98. Kerbside collection schemes mostly collect paper and card, whereas civic amenity and ÒbringÓ sites collect substantial amounts of a range of materials. In addition to centralised composting schemes, local authorities distributed nearly 280,000 home composters in 1997/98.

Adding to the debate over the future direction of waste management is a new report, published by Waste Watch in conjunction with Friends of the Earth, with financial support from UK Waste Ltd. Beyond the Bin: The Economics of Waste Management Options, summarises research into the environmental costs of different ways of dealing with household rubbish, and concludes that the wider environmental benefits from recycling make this activity more environmentally friendly, and a more economical option when public participation is high.

The research, by ECOTEC Research and Consulting Ltd, examines the financial costs of running kerbside recycling schemes, landfill and incineration, and then looks at the impact of external costs and benefits, such as transport and mining.

Plus for recycling

When the research incorporated the environmental costs and benefits associated with the different disposal types, the overall economic analysis showed the actual costs of recycling per household are lower than current figures suggest, and that the environmental benefits are greater than those for landfill and incineration.

*Municipal Waste Management 1996 and 1997/98, DETR, £15.

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