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Simon Ellin: Consistency must be the way to boost recycling

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The waste and resources strategy had the potential to be transformative for councils.

ellin simon

ellin simon

Simon Ellin

Local authorities have been successful and fundamental in getting us from a recycling rate of 11.0% in 2001 to 45.2% in 2017.

As a nation, we have become accustomed to recycling, and it is now second nature to put our cardboard boxes, plastic bottles and cans in our recycling bins.

But our recycling growth has slowed and might even be going backwards. At the same time, we have seen a deterioration in the quality of UK recycled materials sold into the market.

There are a number of reasons for this, ranging from poorly designed packaging, to local authority collection systems that have been designed to collect volume, and not necessarily for quality.

The recently published Resources and Waste Strategy consultation is, on the whole, a blueprint for improving both quantity and quality of materials collected for recycling.

The resources and waste strategy has the potential to be transformative for local authorities

By seeking to fully fund the net cost of local authority collections through the principle of extended producer responsibility, the cost will be transferred from the taxpayer to the retailers and manufacturers that produce the waste in the first place.

They will be required to produce packaging that uses core materials and is designed for recycling, or potentially face additional cost.

But with extra funding, local authorities may also need to consider consistency of collections too as part of service level agreements that lead to a quality recycled commodity.

The public say they are confused by not knowing which items go in which bin, and are frustrated by labels that tell them to check with their local authority whether a material can be recycled in their area or not.

Consistent packaging types and consistent types of collection in consistently coloured bins must be the way to increase both the quantity and quality of recycled material. Every village, town and city should essentially have the same, or very similar, collection service.

In our view, it is vitally important that paper and cardboard are collected separately from other recycling. Both of these are easily contaminated by broken glass, or food from opened plastic or glass bottles and jars. By keeping paper and cardboard clean, there is also a market premium paid for the best quality material.

We should also recognise where local authorities have got things right. Despite a lot of political pressure against it at times, moves to fortnightly collections of dry recyclables and weekly collection of food waste/residual waste makes economic and environmental sense.

The Resources and Waste Strategy has the potential to be transformative for local authorities, but also for creating a circular supply chain, rather than the linear one that dominates now.

Simon Ellin, chief executive, The Recycling Association


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