A senior Brussels official told RWM that quality is key in recycling and he doubted that the UK’s emphasis on commingled collections could deliver the required standards.
Karl Falkenberg, who until this month was director-general for environment at the European Commission and playing a leading role in the forthcoming Circular Economy package, said a goal of no waste to landfill by 2020 was achievable and countries such as Sweden and Germany were leading the way.
These countries had demonstrated that alternatives to landfill such as incineration were “remunerative economic activities and therefore there is private capital very willing to invest in those facilities and to do it quite rapidly”, he added.
Falkenberg said the stand-alone business case was crucial, although structural funds were helping weaker member states.
“There is a growing recognition this is useful but what has not been understood yet is that this is a policy for those that are lagging behind,” he said, suggesting that general financial support would not be forthcoming.
High quality recyclates would find their markets, he said, and quality was vital.
“All of Europe minus the UK tells me that separate collections are key. In the UK there is the approach that we can separate commingled waste as effectively. It’s an very peculiar approach to the UK.
“It’s not for me to say how it is done, what I would like to see is the outcome. The UK is recycling substantively less than many of the separate collection systems in member states on the continent. The UK is still putting 37% of municipal waste into landfill when others are at zero going down the route of separate collection.”
Falkenberg said incineration was the obvious alternative to landfill but acknowledged planning issues in Britain.
“In the UK it seems more difficult to build an incinerator than a nuclear plant. We have to showcase that this technology is safe and has been tested. We should be able to move collectively.”
He was asked about incentives for waste producers and said he favoured disseminating examples of best practice in, for example, remanufacturing.
“We will make sure there is better knowledge and access to experiences and we draw on the best technology.”
Consumer incentives were not best handled at a European level, he asserted. “Schools and schoolkids are the answer. Education is something every member state and every local authority can do better than me in Brussels.”