Target-driven recycling system perverse – consultant

A widely respected consultant who has the ear of Defra and other government agencies pointed out what he considers a fatal flaw in the target-driven recycling strategies employed by local government in the UK.

Speaking on biowaste collection at a conference hosted by the Composting Association, Dominic Hogg of Bristol-based consultants Eunomia argued that exisiting targets can lead to reductions in home composting, as councils clamour to increase the amount of materials they are recycling and look to collect as much garden and food waste as they can.

“Many district authorities quite quickly move from recycling 16% to 40% purely by adding garden waste collections,” he said.

“It’s an attractive way of meeting recycling targets. You’ve got a number of authorities saying we know this is an issue but we’ve got to do this because we’re being driven by targets

While on the surface increased recycling rates might not appear to be a bad thing, in areas where green waste collections aren’t the norm, more householders are composting their own waste – a cheap, effective method of disposal which could arguably be seen as ‘reduction’ rather than ‘recycling’ – a notch higher up the generally accepted waste hierarchy.

“The perverse thing about the system is if you’ve got a collection system in place for biowaste and a household is removing waste by home composting it means you’ve lost biodegradeable waste and that loses you landfill credits.

“It’s not right.”

He said that outside our Brave New World of waste regulation home composting would be encouraged as a highly cost effective option which, in terms of producer responsibility, saw the producers – the householders – dealing with their own waste.

Mr Hogg concluded that it might be time to look again at how we are setting targets in the UK.

“In Flanders targets are based on the quantity of residual waste per inhabitant, rather than the amount being recycled,” he said.

“We don’t have all the answers, but I think it’s the case that we do need a bit more joined up thinking.”

Sam Bond

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