Industry calls for radical changes to fund recycling push

16th December 2016


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John Peters

Industry and local authorities have called for levies on manufacturers to fund improvements to recycling systems after data revealed a drop in recycling rates.

The household recycling rate fell from 44.8% in 2014 to 43.9% in 2015, according to statistics released by the environment department (Defra) yesterday. Recycling rates had previously been increasing each year and this is the first time the household recycling rate has been lower than 44% since 2011, Defra said in its report.

Household recycling rates, January 2010-March 2016

Source: Defra

Dry recycling, which includes paper, plastics and glass and comprises 59% of materials recycled by households, fell by 1.1% between 2014 and 2015. Recycling of garden waste fell by 4.8%, though Defra pointed out that recycling of this material had been unusually high the preceding year.

The UK has to meet an EU target to recycle 50% of household waste by 2020. Concerns have been growing that it will not meet this target.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes would see some of the responsibility for recycling shift from local authorities to packaging and product manufacturers, who would be taxed on a sliding scale according to the amount of recyclable and non-recyclable materials used in their goods.

The levy would help pay for more comprehensive schemes for a much wider range of materials than are currently recycled, according to David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of waste firm SUEZ. The fall in recycling is the first since Defra started collecting data 16 years ago, according to the firm’s analysis.

Producers would be incentivised to use more recycled material and would therefore have an interest in the success of systems designed to capture and return the material they need back to them, he said.

‘This is the “pull” mechanism that the recycling industry has been calling out for, to complement the “push” of material out of landfill into recycling,’ Palmer-Jones said.

Recycling systems funded by an EPR levy could include separate doorstep collection, bring-banks and deposit-return schemes, he suggested.

The idea has also been backed by the Environmental Services Association. In October, the trade body claimed that that applying EPR to some of the more common components of UK litter could save local authorities around £300m a year.

The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) said that Defra’s latest data demonstrated the effects the ongoing council budget cuts on local authority waste services.

The funding of council waste services needs a fundamental review and concepts such as EPR should be explored and implemented, said Andrew Bird, chair of LARAC. The committee urged DEFRA to work constructively with local government to identify policy changes that would help the UK achieve the 50% recycling rate was in danger of missing.

Bird said: ‘We are obviously disappointed that the rates have gone down for the first time. But when waste services are competing for a reduced budget with adult care, education and social services it is clear something is going to give.’

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