An action plan has been unveiled by the Local Government Association (LGA) to help councils deal with the fall in the price of recycled materials caused by the global economic downturn.
The LGA has written to every council leader in the country to set out the ways in which local authorities can tackle the problem caused by a dramatic fall in demand.
While many councils have agreed fixed price contracts for recyclable materials with private companies and are not currently affected by the market prices, there are some whose recycling firms are now refusing to take recycled material because of the collapse in market prices.
For these councils, the LGA has set out a number of solutions to the issue. These include:
- Utilising the expert advice of industry experts and Government advisers to access new buyers
- Short term storage until market prices rise. The Environment Agency has already committed to respond quickly to requests for temporary increases in storage capacity at sites already permitted to accept those wastes
- Longer term storage in other facilities where it makes sense. In the event of markets not recovering in the medium term, the LGA will press the Environment Agency to look at storage facilities e.g. ex-military buildings to avoid increased costs for councils
- Where long-term storage is impractical, councils should increase the composting of biodegradable materials
- The Government should return the proceeds of landfill tax - £1.5bn over three years to councils so the money can be invested in recycling facilities that will produce higher quality, more marketable materials.
LGA Environment Board chair Cllr Paul Bettison said: Local government is operating under challenging financial circumstances, but councils must take all reasonable action to maintain recycling services for local people. The fall in prices will not last forever, and material not put out for recycling will go to landfill sites. If people dont keep recycling it will result in increased disposal costs for council tax payers.
It is vital that people continue to recycle as much as possible. Should councils be unable to secure buyers for recyclable material, short-term storage should be explored as the most sensible option. The Environment Agency has issued guidance on the storage of recyclable material, and is committed to responding quickly to requests for temporary increases in storage capacity for recyclable waste at sites already permitted to accept it. Should this prove insufficient, the LGA will press them to quickly permit appropriate new sites.
The waste prevention message must always come first. When looking at alternatives to recycling, composting or incineration should be considered. The use of landfill must be an absolute last resort.
Prices can fluctuate significantly and consequently it is too early to speculate on what the impact may be on council finances. What the uncertainty does confirm is the need for the Government to make good its pledge to return the proceeds from landfill tax to local authorities so this money can be invested in local recycling facilities. Producing high quality materials provides the best opportunity for them to be sold at the best price.
Bettison is due to meet Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ministers to discuss the impact of the global downturn on local authorities.