Waste & Recycling: 2004 in review

As far as waste and recycling were concerned, 2004 was dominated by two main themes - preparing to deal with hazardous waste under new EU legislation, and the increasing efforts of government, local authorities and industry to boost the UK's recycling figures.

The government’s efforts to prepare for the implementation of both the Landfill Directive and the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Directive met much criticism (see related story) as Government and industry both stood accused of unrealistic planning.

MPs voiced concerns that businesses were totally unprepared for the changes in dealing with hazardous wastes (see related story), and that the government stood to face another “fridge mountain” situation (see related story), with end-of-life vehicles dumped around the country and piled high in fields (see related story).

Nevertheless, guidelines to the changes in dealing with electrical and electronic waste were released in July (see related story), the UK’s proposals for dealing with hazardous waste came into effect fairly smoothly in early August (see related story).

To mark the occasion, think tank the RSA unveiled a giant sculpture called WEEE man measuring seven metres and weighing three tonnes, to put into real terms the amount of electronic and electrical waste the average person throws away in their lifetime (see related story). It has also announced plans to hold a “WEEE-Day” during August 2005, to coincide with the implementation of the directive.

Regarding the UK’s recycling effort, Defra headed the government’s launch of a £10 million multi-media campaign this summer (see related story), which was closely followed by London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s own London-based campaign (see related story). Both campaigns received a positive public response and saw celebrities including comedian Eddie Izzard and TV gardener Charlie Dimmock getting involved in the drive to reduce and reuse more of the UK’s municipal rubbish.

Further north, one of the most effective recycling campaigns was run by Sheffield County Council, which used alternative methods to boost its recycling rates in order to help meet EU targets (see related story). In fact, the Full Monthly campaign was so successful that a special Christmas version was launched over the festive period to remind revellers to recycle wrapping paper, cards, party hats and calendars (see related story).

However, throughout the year there were still concerns that the UK’s recycling targets would not be met, both on a local (see related story) and national level (see related story). And this would, perhaps, explain the government’s announcement at the end of December to cut back recycling targets for nearly a quarter of the UK’s local authorities.

The decision was met with outrage by environmental campaigners (see related story), despite claims from Environment Minister Elliot Morley that the cutbacks would actually help local authorities to divert waste from landfill and increase recycling activity.

But, targets aside, a huge effort has been made in 2004 to motivate people to recycle more of their rubbish. On top of cash boosts from the government (see related story), food giant Tesco launched the first in a new generation of high tech recycling units (see related story), the NHS announced its decision to green its waste stream and create a best practice model for other organisations (see related story), and Scotland opened up the UK’s first recycling plant for Lithium-ion batteries, providing a great opportunity to increase the 2% recycling rate for batteries in the UK (see related story).

By Jane Kettle

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