European Commission guidance confirming commingled collections should be allowed by member states does little to resolve the UK collection methods debate, sector experts said.
The European Commission’s long-awaited final guidance was issued on 21 June.
It confirmed commingled collections were acceptable under the revised Waste Framework Directive (rWFD) – in certain circumstances and as long as certain standards are achieved.
The document, Guidance on the interpretation of key provisions of Directive 2008/98/EC on waste, 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.”
There “is an obligation to have in place by 2015 separate collection for paper, metal, plastic and glass” but setting up a separate collection was also subject to the principle of “proportionality”, the guidance said (see box).
Industry experts said the guidance was “much as expected”.
Former Wrap and Defra official Phillip Ward said: “The question now is how Defra will deal with this in its own guidance and what steps it will take to ensure that sorting in material recovery facilities achieves a standard equivalent to a separate collection.”
A waste industry legal expert said the focus was now on whether Defra would seek to press ahead with their proposed amendments to the waste regulations (2011), Defra’s transposition of the rWFD, in their current form.
The proposed amendments to the regulations said a commingled collection should be allowed when an individual collection is not “technically, environmentally and economically practicable” (TEEP) or necessary to meet “appropriate quality standards”.
If Defra leaves decisions on TEEP - and therefore where commingling is allowed - to individual local authorities and waste firms, councils are concerned this could leave open to legal challenges.
The news follows the Judicial Review into the waste regulations on collections facing a fresh delay earlier this month when Defra sought to postpone the hearing for a second time.
A Defra spokesman said the Government welcomed the EC guidance which “confirms their previously expressed views on the acceptability of commingled collections.”
He added: “We are currently finalising amendments to domestic legislation that transpose the EU requirement on separate collections. We recognise the need resolve this issue swiftly to provide clarity to all concerned.”
The possibility of commingling
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