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'European legislation will lead the way for recycling'

Andrew Bird
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The focus for the new government will be Brexit.

Key for the resources industry in the UK will be the timing in the European Circular Economy Package (CEP) becoming law, and whether this will happen before our departure from the EU. The assumption is that it will become law before we leave, and therefore will have to be adopted.

If so the impact on the industry will be significant, and for councils very challenging, particularly around the targets for recycling 70% of municipal waste collected by 2030. With the current target of 50% by 2020 being very unlikely to be achieved, we should be concerned.

Clearly Wales and Scotland already have robust strategies in place which fit well with the CEP, and Northern Ireland has adopted similar principles but in England we still lag behind. The last two governments just left things to the market, removing targets and so-called ‘red tape’.

There has been much talk of consistency in recycling collections over the last year or so. Government policy also needs to be consistent across the UK if we have any hope of moving toward a more circular-economy approach to use of materials, whether the CEP becomes law or not.

Investment will be the key to success, and that is in short supply. It is time to review how recycling and waste services are funded, and this needs to be honest and non-political. Current funding mechanisms are unsustainable; we have seen over the past year a number of PFI contracts terminated by councils as they are no longer fit for purpose.

There are a number of challenges redesigning funding, not least the taxpayer paying to deal with materials in which producers lose interest once they have been sold.

In household collections, many people view recycling as optional and as ‘doing a favour’, whereas they see residual waste collections as being of the upmost importance.

Would a pay-to-throw system be the way forward? It works in many other countries and the commercial sector, so in theory, yes, but in practice it would be difficult to implement given residents’ perceptions. However, we are seeing changes being introduced for non-statutory collections such as bulky waste and garden waste collections.

A true circular economy is a game-changer for the whole supply chain, and has the potential to save taxpayers money in the future, but we have to accept there will be difficult and unpopular decisions to make on the way.

Andrew Bird, chair, Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee

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