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EC confirms commingled recycling

The European Commission has confirmed commingled recycling collections are allowed under the revised Waste Framework Directive (rWFD).

Fresh EC guidance said commingled collections of more than one single waste stream may be accepted as meeting the requirement for separate collection – as long as certain standards are hit.

The guidance said that while the rWFD did not include an explicit statement covering commingled collections, there are certain circumstances when it is acceptable.  

The document said: “Subject to available separation technology, the commingled collection of certain dry recyclables should be possible, if these materials are being separated to high quality standards.”

The guidance explained that there “is an obligation to have in place by 2015 separate collection for paper, metal, plastic and glass” but that setting up a separate collection was also subject to the principle of “proportionality” (see box for more).

The news is a fillip for Defra which has been embroiled in a legal battle over whether or not commingled collections are allowed under European law.

The department has sought to further delay a crucial court hearing, prompting leading figures to suggest the department was pinning its hopes on the EC guidance “broadening the loophole in the earlier draft suggesting that commingled collection may be acceptable”.

The Environmental Services Association said while not legally binding, the guidance provided a “good indication” of how the commission expects governments to interpret the directive.

ESA’s director of policy, said: “Our members operate a range of different systems for collecting recyclable materials, and ESA does not believe there should be a “one size fits all” collection method. We therefore welcome the Commission’s guidance which confirms that co-mingled collection of dry recyclables can be an acceptable method of meeting the Directive’s requirements to promote high quality recycling.”

More reaction to follow.  

The key passage (page 55) on “possibility of commingling”

The WFD does not include an explicit statement covering the commingled collection of different recyclable waste streams (as one commingled stream).

As a starting point, it should be borne in mind that in accordance with Article 11(1), paragraph 3 WFD, and subject to the conditions set out in this provision, there is an obligation to have in place by 2015 separate collection for paper, metal, plastic and glass. Separate collection is defined as waste-stream-specific separate collection (see above).

On the other hand, setting up a separate collection is also subject to the principle of proportionality (subject to Article 10(2) WFD: necessity and technical, environmental and economic practicability).

Considering that the aim of separate collection is high-quality recycling, the introduction of a separate collection system is not necessary if the aim of high-quality recycling can be achieved just as well with a form of co-mingled collection.

So, commingled collection of more than one single waste streams may be accepted as meeting the requirement for separate collection, but the benchmark of ‘high-quality recycling’ of separately collected single waste streams has to be examined; if subsequent separation can achieve high-quality recycling similar to that achieved with separate collection, then co-mingling would be in line with Article 11 WFD and the principles of the waste hierarchy.

Practically, this usually excludes commingled collection of bio-waste and other ‘wet‘waste fractions with dry fractions such as e.g. paper. On the other hand, subject to available separation technology, the commingled collection of certain dry recyclables (e.g. metal and plastic) should be possible, if these materials are being separated to high quality standards in a subsequent treatment process.

Guidance on the interpretation of key provisions of Directive 2008/98/EC on waste can be read in full here

 

Readers' comments (1)

  • People should not get carried away by this. True the Commission guidance - and it is only guidance - stops short of a ban on commingling, but it accepts it only where sorting is good enough to produce material of a quality equivalent to separate collections. The whole argument of UK reprocessors has been that we are long way from even the majority of MRFs being able to achieve that standard.

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