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Biffa warns against collections U-turn

Forcing councils to revert to kerbside sorted collections as a result of the collections Judicial Review would be an “expensive and damaging” backward step, waste management firm Biffa has said.

Next week’s Judicial Review (JR) will rule on the UK and Welsh governments’ interpretation of the EU rules on separate collections.

Biffa fears the JR could result in English and Welsh councils collecting commingled recycling having to change to kerbside sorted collections, which could affect around two-thirds of all councils.

The waste company says that any change would waste millions of pounds of investment in recycling, create extra costs for councils and cut recycling rates by up to 20%.

The JR has been sought by the Campaign for Real Recycling (CRR) which claims that the inclusion of commingling is contrary to the wording and spirit of the European Waste Directive Framework. Concerns around commingling have centred on the ability of proper separation at later stages and the provision of quality recyclate for reprocessors.

Pete Dickson, Biffa

Biffa’s municipal development director Pete Dickson (left) said that commingling was a proven and successful method of recycling used by around half of all English local authorities.

“This expensive and damaging step could make recycling more complex when it should be as simple as possible,” he said.

Dickson said that separation had a place as one option for councils, but that it was not right for all and called for a “pragmatic and constructive” interpretation of the directive.

“It would affect millions and cost millions,” he said. “Local authorities should be the ones to decide how their local recycling and refuse should be collected. They must be allowed to have the freedom to choose the collection system that best meets their local needs, be it commingling or separation.

He added: “The important focus, from the Directive’s perspective, should be on achieving high levels of recycling that produce material that is re-used or reprocessed.”

Dickson said that Defra recycling figures for 2011-12 showed that most of the best performing dry recycling authorities in England used commingled collections. Commingled collection increased household participation in recycling, boosting tonnage of dry recyclables, and saving councils landfill tax and disposal costs on residual waste, he said.

In a recent MRW poll, more than half of respondents said that greater commingling would generate higher recycling rates.

Immediate changes ‘unlikely’

Philip Ward, former local government director at WRAP, said a ruling in favour of the CRR would be unlikely to result in the need for local authorities to make any immediate changes to collections.

“The government would have to go back and work out a new transposition of the directive and there would have to be discussions with the CRR and others around what is technically, environmentally and economically practicable, and solution that everyone can live with,” he said.

“It could be that local authorities would be asked to consider kerb-side collections for new tenders but no-one is expecting a handbrake turn. It’s dragged on for so long that I think an agreement could be found.”

He added however, that the government should do more to listen to reprocessors and go futher to address concerns about the quality of recycling.

The local authority view

Matt Prosser, strategic director, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils said that one of the main drivers for the recycling was the simplicity and convenience of the wheeled bin service.

“To revert to boxes and comply with the CRR’s interpretation of the Directive would be a retrograde step from a service and health and safety perspective, and would have a significant negative effect on our recycling rates,” he said. “Clearly that’s not a situation we support.”

Other local authorities cited more litter, changes to vehicle and crew configurations, and new containers among the impacts of a decision against commingling.

Wirral Borough Council waste and environmental services manager Tara Dumas said that the review was not a concern. “I believe that, at worst, we may have to remove glass, which means we can add other things. The high quality we achieve is far superior to dirty MRF processes that could well feel the brunt of this review.”

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