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Defra considers stricter organics recycling requirements

Defra is considering raising the standard of what constitutes organics recycling, which could affect whether the UK reaches its 2020 household recycling target of 50%.

Colin Church

Colin Church (left), Defra’s director of resource, atmosphere and sustainability, speaking exclusively to MRW, said he was weighing up whether organic material should be compliant with the PAS100 standard for compost and PAS110 standard for digestate before it qualifies as recycling.

A Defra spokeperson explained current local authority organics recycling arrangements - under which local authorities do not need to treat material to the PAS 100/110 standards - pre-date the revised Waste Framework Directive (rWFD).

She said: “Current practice measures the amount of recycling and composting but the EU target is specifically about recycling. The definition of recycling in the rWFD states that wastes have to be fully recovered into a product, material or substance to be recycled.”

Defra said it is considering whether it needs to align the two definitions and therefore change local authorities’ reporting arrangements for the material.

Church told MRW he was concerned that if the department made such changes, this could impact on household recycling rates, making it uncertain the UK will hit its targets.

“We will take into account a number of factors including the impact on local authorities, operators, the ongoing review of EU waste targets, as well as the different approaches being taken in other member states,” a Defra spokesperson said.

She added: “We have signalled to local authorities that this is something we are looking at, meanwhile, we have advised them to continue to report on the current basis.  

“Should any changes be necessary, we will work with local authorities and the industry to ensure they have adequate time to adapt.”

The Renewable Energy Association (REA) welcomed Defra’s suggestion of raising the bar of what is required for organic material to count towards household recycling.

Jeremy Jacobs, REA’s technical director, told MRW: “It will improve the quality of output from composting or biological treatment, and provide surety and an element of confidence in the market. Scotland and Northern Ireland are already doing this.”

On the question of meeting the UK’s 2020 household recycling targets, Jacobs acknowledged local authorities will have to up their game: “It would put pressure on improving the quality of input. Too often the quality of materials collected by local authorities contain too many contaminants; you get plastics, cardboard, films.”

The Local Government Association said it was too early in the process to comment on Defra’s plans.

MRF code: Recycling rate ‘concern’

Church was speaking to MRW ahead of the much-anticipated release of the MRF Code of Practice this autumn.

He said he was concerned about the impact of the MRF code on recycling rates. The code will ensure more transparency in MRFs, including exposing reject rates.

He said industry estimates for reject rates varied widely so it was difficult to tell how significant this would be.

However, he thought potentially changing the definition for what counts towards organics recycling could be a greater concern.

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