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A booming industry gets organised

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management chief executive Steve Lee

Steve Lee

Congratulating MRW on its centenary reminds me that our industry has been essential to the nation’s wellbeing for well over 100 years. It was in the mid 19th century that the provision of public cleansing, including organised collection and disposal of waste, become a priority, particularly in fast growing industrial centres where diseases including cholera and typhoid were rife. The raft of Victorian public health legislation that followed began the process of modern waste regulation, and in 1868 Glasgow and Manchester appointed their first Cleansing Superintendents, who later became members of the CIWM when it formed in 1898.

As well as collecting waste, the 1875 Public Health Act gave local councils the power to sell salvage and council involvement in early recycling was considerable even before WW1. Rochdale made dry manure from ‘night soil’, which in 1907 earned them £1500 - quite a sum at the time. In the same year, Glasgow installed a de-tinning plant, earning £1900 in the first year. Salvage became the number one national priority after the German U-boat blockade of 1917, and then again in WW2, when monthly council salvage returns were compulsory.

Since 1920, the UK’s population has close to doubled and in the last few decades, consumerism has run rampant. Cheap materials and mass-produced products fuelled more resource and energy hungry lifestyles, and for a while waste was almost a status symbol. According to the Office of National Statistics, this ‘throw away’ mentality peaked in 2002/03 when each person generated on average 520kg of waste/year. The turnaround in the last decade has probably been one of the biggest shifts our industry has seen. Landfill is no longer the default option, recycling has quadrupled and we are at the beginning of a ‘resource revolution’.

Waste and Resources Action Programme CEO Dr Liz Goodwin

Source: HUW JOHN

Compared with MRW, WRAP is ‘the new kid on the block’. Our organisation has been in operation for little over a decade. However, in that short space of time household recycling rates in England have increased from 11% to 42% and the reprocessing sector turnover has grown threefold. The amount of food waste has fallen to 7.2m tonnes. There’s been growth in composting and AD, and the amount of packaging used has decreased. Huge strides have been made in plastic packaging recycling.

We’ve seen recycling moving from simply being a ‘waste business’ to high tech processing activities, applying innovation to deliver real technological breakthroughs.

While recycling and energy recovery continue to play a significant role, WRAP has increased its emphasis on reducing waste in the first place, better resource use, and resource security and consumption – moving us up the waste hierarchy.I’m particularly proud of the work we’ve done to reduce food waste and the voluntary agreements we’ve brokered, such as the Courtauld and Home Improvement Sector commitments.

British Metals Recycling Association director general Ian Hetherington

The BMRA was formed in 2001 when the British Metals Federation (previously British Scrap Federation) and the British Secondary Metals Association amalgamated.

The role of the trade association became more significant in 1935, following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, when the Government advised that the UK steel industry needed protection from European cartels. Until that time there had been 120 different grades of ferrous specifications, which were then whittled down to 15.

It was during the war years of 1939 to 1945 that great demand was placed on scrap supply. Merchants declared a reserved occupation (ie they were not subject to conscription) and urged not to export as war loomed. The British Iron and Steel Corporation sent buyers to the USA to purchase large quantities of scrap. Importing had a devastating effect on merchants with stocks rising to ‘alarming levels’ that forced them to accept lower prices.

Following the war, members of the National Federation of Scrap Iron and Steel Merchants recovered uneconomic dumps of scrap. The austerity years preserved the status of scrap recovery as a matter of national priority and a ‘scrap drive’ campaign was launched to persuade the public to salvage every pound of reclaimable metal. ‘Jack Scrap’ was used to catch the imagination of the public.

In the late 60s the scrap revolution began – moving from labour-intensive to capital-intensive, mechanising the recovery process.

In 1988, legislation was passed requiring scrap metal companies to be licensed as a ‘waste disposal’ activity. It wasn’t until ten years later that the first case was brought on whether certain grades of scrap metal were considered waste or not.

Environmental Services Association director general Barry Dennis

Eagle van advert

I joined the Deards group of companies – in mainly logistics but with a waste subsidiary - when I left school in 1964. The company had a contract with the Ministry of Defence for a horse & cart and cartmen on hire to pick up rubbish from the Bittacy army barracks at Mill Hill, North West London, until 1973 - a far cry from how modern waste management companies operate their fleet of vehicles.

In the sixties waste management firms expanded their waste management fleets with skip vehicles, charging £5-£6 a load, with the typical ‘tipping fee’ equivalent to 35 pence. I helped create one such fleet for Deards – competing against now well-known names such as Richard Biffa and Norman Grundon.

In 1968 the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors (NAWDC) was created. In 1996, reflecting the move away from disposal, NAWDC changed it’s name to become the ESA.

British Plastics Federation public and industrial affairs director Philip Law 

The BPF Recycling Group started out life in 1989 as the BPF Recycling Council at the dawn of interest in plastics recycling as a public issue. Today the group numbers over 40 member firms.

Wood Recyclers Association executive director Peter Butt

Peter Butt

Between 1912 and 1982 most wood waste went to landfill or was burned on construction sites. But in 1982 the panel board industry decided that waste wood, because of its low moisture content, would make a valuable ingredient for their products.

In March 2001 six pioneer companies set up the Wood Recyclers’ Association. (The same day that WRAP is founded). Eleven more companies join that year, including the first machinery suppliers. At this point 95% of the industry output goes to the panelboard industry.

In 2005 the first international member (IQR of Sweden) joins. By this time, new markets are emerging – animal bedding and landscaping. In 2008 the WRA published its Code of Practice and Protocol for Verification of Wood Packaging. First annual market statistic show industry output of almost 2 million tonnes (about 40% of arisings). Biomass starts to emerge as a strong new market. The following year WRA membership has grown to 60 and there is a watershed decision to accept Timberpak (the recycling arm of the Egger panelboard manufacturer) as a member.

By 2011 the WRA has 80 companies and membership includes energy suppliers and a variety of “service” members such as consultants and councils.

In 2012 the industry standard for wood recycling, PAS111, is published and the 2011 market statistic shows throughput of almost 3 million tonnes (over 70% of total arisings) of which 36% was exported. Biomass becomes the biggest market for the first time.

The Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association policy manager Matt Hindle

ADBA launched on 16 September 2009 by Lord Redesdale and nine founder members. The UK currently produces up to 18 million tonnes of household and C&I food waste in the UK. However, nearly half of this is sent to landfill and incineration. ADBA argues that if the inedible proportion of this food waste was treated through AD, it could be recycled into a flexible, renewable gas – used to generate heat and electricity or, upgraded to biomethane, injected into the gas grid or used as a transport fuel  – and a biofertiliser (‘digestate’).

The Association of Organics Recycling managing director Jeremy Jacobs

AfOR has only been in existence for 18 years. I spent seven year’s at AfOR (previously known as the Composting Association) and a previous life farming and growing mushrooms commercially.

For many years until the late 80’s early 90’s the majority of waste ended up in landfill. The ‘bury it deep and cheap’ campaign was in full swing.

Key events, which dictated the growth and scope of the industry started with the development and release of the Landfill Directive in 1999 (Council Directive 99/31/EC). As awareness increased in the 90s and into the new millennium, the term ‘source segregation’ was heard more widely and this assisted in the capture of greater volumes of green waste and latterly food waste.

In early 2002 the first edition of PAS 100 (Publicly available specification for composted materials) appeared. This was a significant turning point as it started to measure and control quality. PAS 100 has since been through two further iterations and is now widely recognised.

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